SYDNEY – A former barmaid who developed throat cancer has become the first non-smoker in the world to be awarded damages because of passive smoking.

Marlene Sharp, 63, sued the Port Kembla Returned Services League Club in New South Wales, claiming her cancer was caused by inhaling cigarette smoke while she worked there from 1984 to 1995.

The decision of a jury at New South Wales Supreme Court to award her $A446,000 ($NZ548,000) in damages was applauded by anti-tobacco campaigners.

The award may lead to bans on smoking in pubs and clubs. Some states have already restricted smoking in restaurants and cafés.

Ms Sharp, who has never smoked, developed cancer in her throat six years ago.

The jury agreed the club had been negligent in allowing her to work in a smoke-filled environment.

Other legal actions mounted by anti-smokers who claim to have illnesses caused by passive smoking have failed or been settled out of court.

Many more claimants are now expected to come forward.

Ron Edwards, the director of the Australian Council on Smoking and Health, said the ruling was a severe warning to pub owners who continued to allow smoking.

Tim Ferrari, from the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers Union, said: "Employers in hospitality venues are accruing a liability each day."

A spokesman for the Australian Hotels Association said: "It is important that we move with community attitudes ... and don't leap ahead of them. Australia is already a global leader in terms of prohibitions on smoking in certain areas."