Workplace Exposure to Secondhand Smoking May Harm Seriously

Workplace Exposure to Secondhand Smoking May Harm Seriously

In January 1993 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) declared environmental tobacco smoke (also called ETS, secondhand smoke or passive smoke) a known human carcinogen.The amount of risk you have depends on a number of factors. These factors include tobacco use, lifestyle choices (such as diet and exercise), family history, and factors in your workplace and environment.


After years of progress in reducing adult smoking rates, a recent study issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that the reduction in U.S. adult smoking rates may have stalled. Between 2004 and 2005, there was no observed change in U.S. adult smoking rates.

Constant exposure to environmental tobacco smoke — in the workplace or home — nearly doubles the risk of having a heart attack, according to a landmark study of more than 32,000 women.According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report, about 90 percent of nonsmoking people in the United States are exposed to environmental tobacco smoke.

Exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke is a major worldwide public health issue.Bar workers in Scotland showed significant improvements in respiratory symptoms and lung function within 2 months following a ban on smoking in confined public places, according to a study.

Employees of businesses that allowed smoking were almost six times more likely to have detectable levels of the carcinogen in their urine. The levels increased about 6 percent for every hour they were at work,

Passive smoking is associated with a small increase in the risk of coronary heart disease. Given the high prevalence of cigarette smoking, the public health consequences of passive smoking with regard to coronary heart disease may be important.

The same bacterial toxin that causes shock during severe bacterial infections and chronic bronchitis in some industrial workers has been found in cigarette smoke.The researchers report that one pack of cigarettes contains almost one-half a milligram of endotoxin. "Smoking one pack of cigarettes a day gives the same endotoxin exposure as working in a dusty cotton mill for eight hours.

The toxin, which enters the lungs of smokers and, to a lesser degree, the lungs of those who inhale second-hand smoke, is one of the more powerful known triggers of bronchial inflammation. This may explain why cigarette smoke exposure makes asthma worse and causes chronic bronchitis.

Higher hair-nicotine levels were associated with more cigarettes smoked per day among smokers and a greater number of SHS-exposure sources among nonsmokers. Number of SHS exposure sources, gender, number of cigarettes smoked per day, and type of establishment predicted hair-nicotine levels.

In 2003, according to the American Lung Association, 60,714 men died of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a group of chronic lung conditions that includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis. It's strongly associated with lung cancer, the leading cause of cancer deaths among men. The main cause is smoking. Men who smoke are 12 times as likely to die of COPD as are men who've never smoked.

Some preventive measures you can take:

If you are regularly around someone who smokes at least a few cigarettes a day, your risks of medical problems are similar to the increased risks for smokers. A nonsmoker in a very smoky room for 1 hour with several smokers inhales as many bad chemicals as someone who has actually smoked 10 or more cigarettes.

If you live or work in a smoky environment:

Researchers at the Mailman School of Public Health found that nonsmokers who live under both a total household and total workplace smoking ban are over two and a half times more likely to report better health than those without smoking bans.With the growing number of smoking bans in restaurants and bars driving smokers outside, researchers in Athens, Georgia, are hoping to find out whether secondhand smoke from smokers clustered outside these establishments is posing a health hazard of its own.

A landmark surgeon general's report on secondhand smoke released in June 2006 laid to rest any doubt about the danger of secondhand smoke, which can lead to heart disease and cancer. No exposure to tobacco is safe, the report said, and the 126 million people exposed to secondhand smoke are best protected by legislation banning smoking in indoor workplaces and public places.

A national workplace ban on smoking in Ireland resulted in an 83 percent reduction in air pollution in pubs, an 80 percent decrease in airborne carcinogens for patrons and staff, and an improvement in the respiratory health of bar workers, according to a one-year follow-up study.

It's a tip waiters and bartenders could do without.

A potent carcinogen rises quickly in restaurant and bar workers' urine after even brief exposures to secondhand smoke, a new U.S. study finds.

Concentrations of the cancer-causing toxin, called NNK, appear to rise steadily as bar workers' exposure continues, the researchers add.

NNK is "unsafe at any level," according to study lead author Michael Stark, a principal investigator in the health department of Multnomah County, Ore., which includes greater Portland.

"Even with a brief workplace exposure, we were able to detect increases in the level of NNK," Stark said. "On the average, there was a 6 percent increase per hour of work," he said.

His team was expected to report the findings in the issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

Stark said he and his colleagues did the study because "there had been some prior research suggesting you could detect NNK in women and children in homes where workers had smoked."

Funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Policy Research Program, Stark and his colleagues focused on 52 nonsmoking employees of bars and restaurants that allowed smoking. They compared NNK levels in the workers' urine with those of 32 workers in areas where laws prohibit smoking in such establishments.

Three of every four employees working where smoking was permitted had detectable levels of NNK, compared to fewer than half of those in no-smoking establishments, the researchers found. NNK levels rose 6 percent per hour of workplace exposure, strengthening the notion that these concentrations do, indeed, reflect on-the-job intake levels.

But Stark pointed out that "this is workplace exposure that is completely avoidable."

Oregon has recently moved to ban smoking in workplaces, including bars and restaurants, he said. "Just last week, the legislature passed a law that goes into effect in January 2009," Stark said.

Oregon is the 22nd state to implement such a law, said Danny McGoldrick, vice president for research at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

"The implications of this study are pretty obvious," McGoldrick said. "Any worker in a bar, restaurant or anyplace else, should be protected from the carcinogens in secondhand smoke. There is no reason for exemption for any class of workers, particularly in the recreation industry."

Fears that laws banning smoking in eating and drinking places would hurt businesses have been long ago disproved, McGoldrick said. "In fact, they seem to help business," he said. "About 80 percent of people are nonsmokers, and they prefer to be in a smoke-free environment."

Another report in the same issue of the journal noted that employers are increasingly likely to be held legally liable for exposing workers to secondhand smoke, even in localities where laws permit workplace smoking.

The legal analysis, from the Public Health Institute in Oakland, Calif., found that workers harmed by secondhand smoke are turning to worker compensation laws, state and federal disability laws for redress. It is now employer's responsibility "to provide a safe workplace" to have smoking banned where they work, the researchers wrote.

Current scientific evidence shows that exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke causes death, disease and disability. Passive smoking is one of the key issues leading to smoking bans in workplaces and indoor public places, including restaurants

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