Health smokescreen

MY attention has been drawn to the contents of a publication by the Tobacco Institute of Hong Kong Ltd, entitled Environmental Tobacco Smoke - Answers To The Most Asked Questions, the publication itself having been circulated to members by the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce.

The questions asked and the answers provided are largely designed to give reassurance that Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS) is not, as has been widely claimed, a health hazard; indeed, given the cartoon treatment of this subject devised by the Tobacco Institute, ETS is made to appear as some kind of joke played on the general public.

Apparently, when bothered by smoke, non-smokers should complain about the ventilation system and not interfere with the rights of smokers to behave in this way because, after all, smokers have rights as well.

Furthermore, if non-smokers feel ill in the presence of smokers, they should exercise caution in attributing their symptoms to cigarette smoke - rather than some hitherto unexplained peculiarity in their own lifestyle.

Before swallowing this argument, hook, line and sinker, employers should be aware of the following: (i) non-smokers are winning cases in the courts outside Hong Kong against employers for not exercising a proper duty of care by exposing them to ETS at work; (ii) in some jurisdictions the courts have recognised ETS as an industrial accident for which compensation may be claimed; (iii) claiming not to know that ETS is a health hazard has not proved to be an acceptable defence by employers.

Given this, the smokescreen put up by the Tobacco Institute is unlikely to fool anybody for very long.

ALAN R KING Chairman, Action on Smoking or Health Ltd.