Feature – Focus on cars: Early action on smoking in cars advocated

Future legislation could make smoking in some company vehicles illegal, so experts are advocating early action to stop the situation becoming a drag, says Nick Golding

If you read nothing else, read this …

  • The final details of the Health Bill, are to be approved in July 2006, outlining future English and Welsh legislation on smoking in the workplace and in company vehicles.
  • The new legislation will not actually come into effect until summer 2007.
  • Scotland already has a no-smoking policy in place, which has banned smoking in the workplace and all company vehicles except for company car

Article in full

The Health Bill, which was published in October last year, outlined the government’s plans to outlaw smoking in the workplace and certain company vehicles across England and Wales. But with the wording of the legislation not due to be finalised until July, some confusion surrounds the finer details.

Nigel Trotman, relationship manager at Whitbread, says: "As [an] employer, we need to know where the responsibility lies on smoking in vehicles, and how we should match up to this."

Some believe that the legislation will ban smoking in all company vehicles where there are two or more occupants and where vehicles are open to the public, leaving lone company car drivers exempt.

Where company cars are concerned the legislation may also include exemptions, leading to potential ambiguity. David Appleton, partner in the employment department at Lewis Silkin, explains: "The trouble is where there are exemptions, such as certain cars may be covered by the ban but vans are not, there will always be confusion and room for argument."

But, this does not mean that employers cannot start preparing for the pending ban, and by re-writing policies on smoking in vehicles now they can avoid the inevitable ill-feeling among smokers who believe they are unfairly informed at the last minute.

"It would be a good idea to start putting a non-smoking policy together now, to work with staff and work out some rules," Appleton says.

Scotland’s ban on smoking, which came into effect in March, meanwhile, has prompted some employers to take early action regarding travel to England. In some cases, employers with staff travelling across the border have introduced a nationwide non-smoking policy in order to avoid confusion.

A swift change of policy on smoking by employers will also sit well with non-smoking groups and help to raise the health and safety profile of an organisation. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (Rospa) believes smoking while driving is a dangerous distraction, which employers should encourage drivers to curtail.

Roger Vincent, Rospa’s senior press officer, says: "We believe organisations should have a policy in place that does not allow employees to smoke while they are driving. Lighting or dropping a cigarette while driving can cause accidents."

But, even where new rules banning smoking for car drivers are introduced, policing them may be difficult, as it is unrealistic to expect employers to monitor all staff in their cars throughout the working day.

Marcus Puddy, head of fleet management at Lloyds TSB Autolease, says there is only so much employers will be able to do to enforce such a law. "Fleet managers can only do what is reasonable. The responsibility must lie with the employee thereafter."