Growing numbers of local authorities in Britain are forcing their staff to "clock out" every time they take a cigarette break.
Yesterday, it was the turn of Norfolk's Breckland Council to impose the new rule. Pro-smoker lobbyists said the move by Breckland to require employees to take time out when they need a cigarette was the latest example of a public sector body taking "tyrannical" action to govern the breaks of smokers, which did not apply when workers simply stepped away from their desks.
Since the ban on smoking in public places came into force in England and Wales in 2007, huddles of smokers have become a common sight outside office buildings as they comply with legislation which requires a smoke-free working environment.
But the ability of the 22 per cent of adult Britons who smoke outside the workplace is coming under renewed scrutiny from local authorities. At least six councils require staff who smoke to either work additional hours to take into account their smoking breaks or take time out every time they have a cigarette.
Simon Clark, director of the group Forest, which lobbies for smokers, said: "Are they going to introduce clocking in and off for people who go on the internet, on Facebook, or people who want to have a cup of coffee?
"Many smokers believe having the occasional cigarette allows them to refocus."
Officials at Breckland Council said the rule had been introduced to tackle a perceived unfairness at the amount of time taken to have cigarettes by the 20 per cent of its staff who smoke.
William Nunn, the council's Conservative leader, said: "Some non-smokers do feel a little bit of resentment across the table when ... their colleagues keep getting up and going out of the building.
"We are not trying to stop smoking. What we are saying is that when people go for a cigarette, they should do it in their own time."
Companies such as British Airways and HSBC, two of Britain's biggest employers, said they had no particular policy on smoking breaks and expected staff to "apply common sense".
LAWS OF THE LAND
1954: British researcher Professor Richard Doll confirms the link between smoking and lung cancer.
1965: British Government bans cigarette advertising on TV.
1971: Health warnings are printed on all cigarette packets.
1976: Richard Doll, epidemiologist, publishes a 20-year study which concludes that one in three smokers dies from the habit.
2004: Irish Republic introduces first comprehensive smoking ban in Europe.
2006: Scotland bans smoking in public places.
2007: Smoking bans for public places are instituted in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.