A WOMAN has won damages after a court recognised – for the first time in France – a link between passive smoking at work and lung cancer.
A court in Toulouse ordered the Ecole d’Architecture de Toulouse to pay €3,525 to a former employee who had part of a lung removed after being exposed to smoke at work between 1992, when the anti-smoking Evin Law came into force, and 2002.
The court said passive smoking meant she “lost her chance of not getting cancer”.
The Droits des Non-Fumeurs (DNF) association which helps people enforce anti-tobacco laws, hailed the landmark decision but spokeswoman Céline Fournier said they were disappointed at “the ridiculous amount of the damages, for this poor woman who now only has 22% of her respiratory capacity.”
Lawyer Pierre Mairat, for the victim, said any employee falling ill with lung disease after passive smoking could now use this legal precedent.
Ms Fournier said they expected it to lead to further cases, but did not expect a flood of them.
“This woman did things very thoroughly, with experts’ and doctors’ reports. She proved she had not been exposed apart from at work [though the court said occasional exposure while socialising would not be enough to rule out a claim]. The procedure took seven years and cost a lot, although we supported her.”
A spokeswoman for Comité National Contre le Tabagisme (CNCT), a leading association for prevention of smoking, said: “We had a lot of difficulty getting the idea of passive smoking – that smokers were free to smoke but should not impose their smoke on others – accepted in France. The passing of the ban on workplace smoking in 2007 and cafés and restaurants in 2008 was key, but this is an important additional step.”
She added that the CNCT had pressed for the bans and also for the placing of shock images on cigarette packages, which became law last month. Images will be required on other tobacco products from 2012.
Ms Fournier said the 1992 law, which contained other provisions such limiting alcohol advertising, was meant to stop smoking in “enclosed public places”, but was largely ignored. “It was too vague and there were too many ways around it.”
The government went back to the drawing board with a workplace smoking ban in 2007, and then for bars and restaurants in 2008. Before 2007, 95% of workplaces allowed smoking, but that fell to 9% in 2008, although it rose to 21% as check-ups fell.
In Limoges, a mother is suing a tobacconnist for €32,000 for selling cigarettes to her 17-year-old daughter. The tabac can be fined €135 for selling to under-18s, but the woman says the girl bought cigarettes and the shop for three years and heavy damages were required to “set an example” and, partly, to pay back the estimated €10,000 the girl had spent.