CENTRAL government minister for Health, Elena Salgado, has declared her intention to ban smoking in the workplace before the start of 2006.
Speaking yesterday in Luxembourg, the minister explained that she will enter into a pact with Unions and with company bosses so that in gradual stages, the use of tobacco is limited in the workplace until its complete ban prior to the beginning of 2006. At her inaugural speech to the European Health ministry, Salgado summed up her plans to introduce “control of tobacco” and “smoke-free environments” in order to fight against coronary heart disease.
Gradual prohibition “The fight against smoking has to be undertaken vigorously” said the minister, who emphasised that a ban would be imposed gradually, in such a way that “there would eventually be an overall consensus of opinion that smoking in work places should be banned”. Her ministry, reported Salgado, is “galvanizing” talks with Health and Social groups; she was confident that in October an accord will have been established to make “the minimal investments necessary” so that the spaces destined to smokers in the workplace “are kept separate from the rest and don't contaminate the air which people who choose not to smoke are breathing”. Although the minister didn't want to be drawn on whether or not the new Socialist government will also put up the special taxes on tobacco, Salgado confirmed that “we've got to carry forward the issues that were laid down in our electoral programme”. Salgado didn't discount the fact that in the future, the ban on smoking might extend to all public places, including bars and restaurants as has happened in both Ireland and Sweden, but she declared that the priority of the government is now in banning the consumption of tobacco in the workplace. “We feel that this is the most critical place to start, amongst other reasons because people can't simply get up and leave their place of work” said the minister, “while in leisure time, there is at least some flexibility of movement”. The General Workers Union (UGT) and Workers' Commission (CCOO) welcomed the programme although they said that the ban would be difficult to impose unilaterally, particularly in terms of bringing sanctions to bear against those who didn't abide by restrictions. Workers associations wanted details firmed up because the “complexity” of the scheme would mean that there would be a great deal left to ”good will”. In smaller companies, it would not be as easy to separate smokers from non-smokers as it is in larger ones.