Exempting pubs and clubs that do not serve prepared food from a smoking ban will not protect them from legal action on behalf of workers made ill from cigarette smoke, the UK's expert passive smoking law firm has warned.

John Hall, a solicitor at national law firm Thompsons, which is acting on behalf of bar workers and others made ill from second-hand smoke, has warned Patricia Hewitt, the Secretary of State, that partial smoking bans make no difference to the right to sue.

"If an individual can prove they have been made ill because they have been negligently exposed to cigarette smoke, they may be entitled to compensation," John Hall explained. "Smoking bans make absolutely no difference to whether an employer can be found liable."

Thompsons' submission to the Department of Health's consultation, Health Committee New Inquiry - Smoking in Public Places, explains that a smoking ban cannot protect a pub, club or other employer from litigation.

Thompsons has been working with ASH (Action on Smoking and Health), the public health charity, to identify cases, particularly in the hospitality sector. Some cases have already succeeded and others are current across a wide number of UK employers.

Legal action is complex, however. A claimant has to prove their employer knew that second-hand smoke presented a risk of injury to their non-smoking employees at the time of exposure, and that they knew that the claimant themselves was being exposed to dangerous levels of cigarette smoke in their day-to-day work.

"Partial bans and exemptions according to whether food is served is a complete red herring," John Hall said. "The only responsible action to protect the health of employees, and to protect employers from legal action, is an outright ban on smoking in public places. No responsible employer or government should find difficulty with that."

Thompsons have published other News Stories relating to Smoking in the Workplace.