Pressure to ban smoking in all public places mounted on the Government this week as a leaked medical report exposed the dangers of breathing in second-hand smoke.
The health risks to bar and pub workers were specifically highlighted in a report by the Scientific Committee on Tobacco and Health (SCOTH) which concluded that "no infant, child or adult should be exposed to second-hand smoke… Second-hand smoke represents a substantial public health hazard".
The leaked report, suppressed by the Government for several months, comes as health secretary John Reid is believed to be considering exempting wet-led pubs from proposed legislation outlawing smoking in the workplace.
Despite the strength of evidence showing bar staff are probably the single group of employees most at risk from passive smoking, Reid has so far indicated he does not favour an outright ban on smoking in public places.
The health secretary caused an outcry earlier this year when he said smoking was one of the few pleasures left to working-class people. He further blundered last weekend when he spoke only of the "possible danger of second-hand smoke".
The Government's White Paper on health is expected to be published next month.
Reaction from the hospitality industry to the idea of a partial ban has been derisory. The British Beer and Pubs Association said it was unclear how Reid's proposal could be implemented.
"At lunchtime far more of a pub is changed into an eating area than it is in the evenings," a spokesman said. "How does that work if you have a ban on smoking in all areas where food is served? Does it cover bar snacks?"
The TUC also hit out at Reid's proposal. General secretary Brendan Barber said: "Half measures will not save the 700 employees who die every year because of passive smoking at work."
Pub chain JD Wetherspoon has supported legislation for a complete ban, and said a partial restriction was a fudge. "We maintain that the Government must implement a complete ban on smoking with enough time for licensees and the public to equate themselves with the decision. Pub operators would rather know where they stand," said a spokesman
The risk of lung cancer and ischaemic heart disease for non-smokers exposed to second-hand smoke increases by a quarter. The SCOTH report also noted that babies of women who came into contact with second-hand smoke while pregnant had lower birth weights.