Kevin Rowan column
Like many organisations the TUC has thrown its weight behind a total smoking ban in all workplaces and enclosed public places in the consultation over the current Health White Paper that ends today.
Evidence shows that making workplaces, including all pubs and clubs, smoke-free will be popular not just with employees who until now have been forced to work in smoky, murky environments, but also with the majority of the general public too.
Yet the Government, it seems, is still considering exemptions for pubs and bars not serving food. A clause that will leave workers in approximately 30,000 pubs and private clubs no better protected.
The absence of a full ban will impact disproportionately on the North-East, which has more pubs that don't sell food and private clubs per head of population than most other parts of the country.
The Government must be bold and brave enough to take the additional step and make the ban apply to all workplaces.
This isn't finger-in-the-air-science. It is acknowledged that second-hand smoke kills. Some 120,000 smokers die every year of smoking-related diseases such as lung cancer and heart attacks.
The North-East is the worst affected region, with 30% of the population smoking compared with 27% in the country as a whole.
Smoking is the biggest single preventable cause of premature death, with 15 people dying each day from their smoking habit.
Ending smoking in the workplace could be the most effective means of cutting smoking prevalence and would benefit poorer communities.
The North-East would benefit significantly from a ban on smoking in all workplaces, helping to challenge the fact that we top the league table for poor health, a situation that is a major contributor to the region's poor economic performance and social deprivation.
The lives and health of all employees as well as the general public must be the main priority. It should not matter whether someone works in an office or a pub that doesn't serve food.
At least one bar worker dies every week as a result of passive smoking at their workplace, with thousands more becoming ill.
Thousands have to leave industry every year because they have asthma or have developed health problems caused by other people smoking.
We simply can't afford for this to continue.
And despite claims by the tobacco industry, evidence demonstrates that rather than harm the hospitality and leisure industry a smoking ban would help revive it, bringing back many customers who choose to avoid the smoky atmosphere.
But this will only happen if there is a level playing field and all bars and clubs are covered.