Smoking At Work And The Law

Mariam Abu HusseinLegal Assessment Specialist @ Lawhive
Updated on 31st January 2024

Smoke-Free legislation bans smoking in all enclosed or substantially enclosed public places, workplaces, and work vehicles. This means indoor smoking areas are no longer permitted, and smokers must go outside to smoke.


When it comes to smoking at work, employers have a legal obligation to make sure no smoking occurs on the work premises and in certain workplace vehicles. Businesses and workers that don’t comply with these laws may face hefty fines.

In this article, we'll explore:

The law says employers must protect their employees from harmful substances at work. Secondhand smoke is proven to be harmful to non-smokers. This duty of care is implied by the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974, however, it’s not explicitly stated in regulations, making enforcement challenging.

Employees have resorted to legal action when their employer hasn’t prevented smoking in areas where it is banned. While some courts have ruled in favour of employees exposed to secondhand smoke, smokers have not been successful in defending their right to smoke in the workplace.

What must employers do about smoking in the workplace?

By law, businesses must display ‘no smoking’ signs in workplaces and vehicles, with signs in both Welsh and English in Wales.

They should also make sure people don’t smoke in enclosed workplaces or shared vehicles by removing any indoor smoking areas and ensuring all staff know and follow the smoke-free policy.

While not required by law, it is also recommended that employers collaborate with staff on their smoke-free policy and provide training materials on the law. They may also wish to offer support to employees to help them quit smoking.

Do employers have to provide a smoking area?

Employers aren't required to provide smoking shelters or designated smoking areas.

If they do, shelters must follow smoke-free laws, meaning they can't be fully enclosed. The local council must approve any structures to ensure they meet legal requirements.

In this instance, “enclosed or substantially enclosed" means a place with a roof and walls (including doors and windows) covering at least half of its perimeter.

Who enforces smoke-free legislation?

Local councils are mainly responsible for enforcing smoke-free laws in their areas.

Police involvement is minimal unless there’s threatening behaviour.

Businesses and individuals must make sure smoke-free areas are maintained, and smokers are accountable for following regulations.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) doesn't enforce smoke-free laws, but its inspectors will notify employers if there are concerns, like many people smoking or missing warning signs. If employers don't fix the issue, the inspectors will tell the local authority. Complaints about the smoking ban go to the right local authority through HSE.

How should businesses develop and implement smoking policies in the workplace?

All employers should have a clear smoking policy for the workplace, prioritising non-smokers who don’t want to breathe tobacco smoke. To ensure this, employers should discuss and develop their smoking policy with employees and their representatives to suit the workplace.

In areas exempt from the smoke-free law, employers must still reduce the risk of second-hand smoke for their employees and promote workplace smoking policies.

What is the law on e-cigarettes in the workplace?

The Health Act 2006 bans smoking in enclosed public places, workplaces, public transport, and work vehicles due to clear evidence of harm from secondhand smoke. However, this legislation doesn't cover e-cigarettes, also known as vaping, as they don't burn tobacco or produce smoke.

Employers in the UK have varying rules on using e-cigarettes at work. Some allow vaping in designated outdoor areas or during breaks, while others may ban it altogether.

Can I be fined for smoking in the workplace?

Workers can be fined up to £200 for smoking in the workplace, or up to £50 in Scotland. This doesn’t apply to e-cigarettes, however.

How much can a business be fined if they don’t stop people smoking in the workplace?

Businesses can be fined up to £2,500 for not stopping smoking in the workplace or up to £1,000 for not having 'no smoking' signs.

Can I smoke in a work vehicle?

Smoking is banned in any work vehicle that more than one uses. This applies to taxis, buses, vans, goods vehicles used by more than one driver, and company cars used by more than one employee.

Is smoking allowed in residential care homes?

Residential care homes and hospices can provide smoking rooms for residents, but not for staff or visitors.

Exemptions on smoking in the workplace

Exceptions of the smoking ban include self-contained rentals, private areas in bed and breakfasts, and designated smoking rooms in hotels. Employers must take steps to protect all workers from second-hand smoke, considering at-risk workers, like pregnant women or those with health conditions.

What signs should businesses and employers use to enforce no smoking in the workplace?

Business owners and managers must use approved signs to show that areas are non-smoking, meeting specific size and content guidelines.

In buildings, signage must: 

  • Be at least A5 size; 

  • Include the international no smoking symbol that is at least 7cm in diameter; 

  • Display the text: “No smoking, it is against the law to smoke in these premises.” 

Smaller signs can be used in larger premises or staff-only areas with full-sized signage at the entrance, like shopping centres. 

In vehicles, no smoking signs should be easily seen in all passenger compartments. They must follow the size guidelines and include the international no smoking symbol at least 70mm in diameter.

Tips for your workplace smoke-free policy

A smoke-free policy ensures everyone knows the rules regarding smoke-free laws and their responsibilities. It’s crucial to keep it simple, involve staff, and explain the consequences of not following the rules.

Are workers legally entitled to smoking breaks?

Workers aren’t legally entitled to smoking breaks specifically. However, by law, employers must provide a 20-minute rest break for shifts over six hours, which can be used for smoking.

Get help with employment law from Lawhive

Both employers and employees need to understand their legal obligations and rights in the workplace.

At Lawhive, we offer clarity in employment law matters, offering expert guidance, advice, and practical support from our network of employment lawyers.

If you find yourself grappling with questions about smoking policies in your workplace or need advice on the law, we’re here to help. Contact us today for a free case assessment.

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