Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Nonsmoker sues employer, wins secondhand smoke lawsuit in France

Companies may be held liable if they
don't enforce anti-smoking laws and
expose workers to secondhand smoke.
PRLog (Press Release) – Apr 01, 2011 – In France, apparently for the first time, a nonsmoker has successfully sued her employer and won money damages for being exposed to tobacco smoke in the workplace. 

This victory follows a long string of successful legal actions in the U.S. by nonsmokers against the major tobacco companies, their employers, and "places of public accommodation" including everything from an airline to a fast food company, says public interest law professor John Banzhaf, who helped bring the first successful lawsuit in 1976.

"In the U.S., nonsmokers have brought successful legal actions against big tobacco, employers with smoky workplaces, public places like fast food outlets, their neighbors in condo and apartment buildings, and even against parents who smoke around the children, and in at least one case the legal action was based not upon secondhand tobacco smoke but rather third-hand tobacco smoke - the residue of toxic and carcinogenic chemicals which linger on surfaces long after smoking has ceased," says Banzhaf, a professor at George Washington University Law School.

The French lawsuit was brought by a teacher in an art school in Toulouse.  She claimed that she got lung cancer because the school didn't enforce the anti-smoking law from 1992 and, as a result, many teachers kept smoking and exposed her to smoke.  The court agreed with her claim, and awarded her money damages.

"It has been well known and established since at least the 1990s the secondhand tobacco smoke causes lung cancer, and lung cancer deaths, in nonsmokers, and, indeed, is the major cause of such cancers after smoking by the smoker himself.  Secondhand tobacco smoke has been officially classified as a known human carcinogen - in the same category as asbestos, plutonium, benzene, etc. - for many years," Banzhaf explains.

No one would doubt for a moment that a school which willfully exposed a teacher to radioactive plutonium or asbestos would be subject to legal liability, and it should be no different if it is secondhand tobacco smoke - a substance estimated to kill over 600,000 people a year, argues Banzhaf.

"This decision puts other French companies - which often do not enforce the no-smoking law in their workplaces - on notice that they may be faced with a lawsuit under French law and held liable for damages.”


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