SMOKERS are being blatantly undermined at work and often denied positions for which they are well qualified, according to a new report.

Information published yesterday by Forest, a pressure group for smokers' rights, claims job advertisements with a strong anti-smoking slant are becoming the norm.

However, ASH Scotland, an anti-tobacco organisation, last night dismissed the new information as nothing more than ''mischief making'' by the tobacco industry.

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The Forest report highlights what it calls blatant discrimination in a document entitled Smoking: The New Apartheid. The unfair treatment mentioned includes blanket bans on smoking, forcing smokers to accept reduced pay or longer working hours and sacking workers allegedly caught having a cigarette at work.

A study of more than 300 job advertisements also revealed a new trend of discrimination clearly designed to harm smokers' employment prospects, in extreme cases even stating that only non-smokers should apply.

Forest has announced that to try to beat the problem it is to use its website to offer free job advertisements to companies who will accommodate smokers. The organisation has also pledged to take legal advice on behalf of workers who are denied jobs because they smoke.

Forest chairman Lord Harris of High Cross condemned the ''passive smoking myth'' which he believes is responsible for the new wave of smoking apartheid.

''To employ such tainted tactics against other people's job prospects hits a new low, even to the most militant, mean minded anti-smokers.''

And the report's author, Mr Martin Bell, added: ''The discrimination ranges from innocuous words about smoking restrictions to direct statements that being a smoker - even if it is only in your spare time - excludes you from consideration.

''The fact that people are being denied the means of earning a living simply because they smoke is disgraceful. It is also a massive own goal by employers who may miss out on some highly talented individuals who will take their skills elsewhere.''

Examples of the adverts used by firms in this way includes one by Welcome Food Ingredients of Nottinghamshire which states ''Welcome operates a no-smoking policy so only non-smokers should apply''.

One published by the Chartered Institute of Taxation in London's Evening Standard said an administrative vacancy was for non-smokers. And a Cheltenham packaging company stated in a job advert that ''A team player and non-smoker'' was the ideal candidate.

However, ASH Scotland representative Wendy Ugolini said: ''While looking at these claims we must keep in mind that Forest gets 95% of its funding from the tobacco industry and that no-smoking policies for workers would seriously damage their profits.

''As a group we would never condone job discrimination of any kind against smokers. Where, however, a company has employed a strict anti-smoking policy this has to be taken seriously.

''It is crucial that society recognises the seriousness of smoking as an addiction and employers should be offering understanding and advice to workers who want to quit. It is the substance which is the problem not those who are addicted to it.''

q An all-party group of Irish politicians is pressing for a total ban on smoking in public places nationwide.