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University of Bristol
Wellcome Trust
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Society of Biology
PEEP for Physics & Ethics at GCSE


According to the World Health Organisation smoking kills one adult in 10, which is 5 million people a year. However, you can legally buy cigarettes in the UK at 16, but have to be 18 to buy alcohol. Thanks in large part to the pioneering research of Sir Richard Doll, it is now universally accepted that smoking causes a range of heath problems, and latterly that being in a  smoke filled atmosphere is also damaging to health. The latest hazard linked to smoking is  increased risk of blindness. The evidence for the damaging effects of smoking is now so strong that all cigarette packets carry dire health warnings, and in some countries smoking in public places such as restaurants and bars is banned.

Activity: Consider the following possible cases for legal action, in each case list the possible ethical arguments for and against the action. This is not about what the legislation does or does not support, it is about considering what you think the ethics of the situation are.

Mary is 68. She began smoking when she was 12 years old and has smoked at least 20 cigarettes a day all her life. She has had severe breathing problems for as long as she can remember. She always gets bronchitis in the winter and now she has developed
emphysema, an irreversible lung condition that means she cannot breathe without regular use of oxygen. She has approached a solicitor for advice because she wants to sue the company that makes the cigarettes. When she started smoking there were no health warnings on the packets.

Alfie has lung cancer. He has never smoked but he has been a bar tender all his adult life. He is convinced that working in a smoky atmosphere has caused his disease. He wants to sue his employer for failing to protect him from this obvious hazard.

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