Enduring smoky workplaces is an "unacceptable burden" on employees, John Britton, professor of epidemiology at the University of Nottingham told delegates at the Labour Party Conference last week.
Speaking at a fringe meeting on smoking in the workplace, Britton said it was "strange" the health minister, John Reid, would not take action and that is was "an abdication of his responsibility".
"We need effective and comprehensive smoke-free policies in everybody's workplaces. The Government must act to protect people," he said.
He also told delegates that exposure to high levels of smoking in the workplace caused a "very substantial risk" of heart disease and lung cancer as well as being a trigger for asthma.
His view was reinforced by the TUC's senior health and safety policy officer, Hugh Robertson, who said workers should not be exposed to dangerous substances at work.
"This is a health and safety issue," he said. "There are very few enclosed public places which are not also workplaces."
Smoking remains the biggest avoidable cause of death in the UK with about 700 people dying from workplace smoke-related illnesses every year. This compares with about 230 deaths from work-related accidents.
About 10% of the working population still work in an environment where smoking is allowed unchecked. The vast majority of these people work in intermediate or semi-skilled positions.