20/12/2010 12:29 GMT | Updated 22/05/2015 06:12 BST

Do We Need To Give Smokers A Break?

Yesterday's news about the Norfolk council that is planning to make smokers clock off for cigarette breaks has divided the nation. There's nothing like the good old should-we-ban-smoking debate to bring the evangelistic non-smoker and their nemesis, the committed puffer, out into the open.

As someone who writes about being healthy, I have little patience for the whingers who complain about their human rights being violated just because they're not allowed to pollute our shared air any longer.

On the other hand, I have no problem with people smoking (given that there's a suitable distance between them and me, that is). Just stop complaining about how hard done by you are because you can't smoke wherever and whenever you like any more. The world is changing (for better or worse). Keep up.

But surely the real point here isn't about fairness or smoking.

The truth is many of today's employees are stressed to the max at work: A tense environment often made worse by the knowledge that some will get laid off as a result of the pending economic cuts.

Stress relief is a well-known reason for smoking, so making smokers even more stressed by forcing them to clock in and out every time they need a cigarette seems a counterproductive policy.

Believe it or not, people in Britain are among the hardest working in Europe. We work longer hours than many of our continental neighbours (41.4 hours a week on average, according to the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions). And thanks to the current economic climate many of us feel we can't take time off even when we're sick.

So is it any wonder most of us don't take enough breaks during our working day?

Forget smoking for the time being, taking a break is crucial for your wellbeing as well as your work performance. So why not make everyone take a respectable number of breaks and then the smokers can spend theirs however they like, and nobody can complain about unfairness.

That would be my solution, but if the responses to yesterday's news story are any indication perhaps breaks of any form are no longer welcome. Don't stop with smokers, they say. What about all those people who 'waste' time going to the loo during office hours or people with kids who all that time they take off for family emergencies? Even women are blamed for wasting time jabbering all day.

Is this what the great British public really thinks? When did work become so much more important than our physical and emotional health? Or caring about our families? Or friendship?

So let's stop picking on smokers (at least the ones who don't whinge). And let's start getting healthier at work.

All of us.

By: Christine Morgan