According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), about 20% of working adults use some sort of tobacco products, and almost 5% of these folks use two or more tobacco products “every day” or “some days.”
NIOSH researchers examined 3 years of data (2014–2016) from the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS). Among the148 million working adults:
- 15.4% used cigarettes.
- 5.8% used other combustible tobacco (such as cigars and hookahs).
- 3% used smokeless tobacco.
- 3.6% used e-cigarettes.
Who Are These Smokers?
According to the NIOSH study, 34.3% of workers in the construction industry and 37.2% of workers in installation, maintenance, and repair occupations were current tobacco users. Working adults who used tobacco products were also more likely to be:
- Male, and
- Living below the federal poverty level.
In addition, they most likely did not have health insurance.
In general, there is no federal smoking ban for private employers.
However, although the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has no regulation that addresses tobacco smoke as a whole, the standard concerning Air Contaminants found at 29 CFR 1910.1000 limits employee exposure to several of the main chemical components found in tobacco smoke. In normal situations, exposures would not exceed these limits. However, OSHA does not apply the General Duty Clause to environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), aka “secondhand smoke.”
The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) prohibits smoking in areas that could cause fire or an explosion. The rule also states that the operator must establish a program to ensure this policy is followed.
In addition, 47 states have laws limiting smoking in public places, including workplaces; 40 states and the District of Columbia restrict smoking in private sector workplaces; and all 50 states restrict smoking in government buildings. Local jurisdictions also have banned smoking in public indoor areas, often including restaurants and bars.
In states where smoking is confined to designated smoking areas, nonsmokers cannot be required to enter the area. Beyond the law, many employers have banned smoking entirely in their facilities.
In a few states, courts have ruled that an employer’s responsibility to provide a safe workplace includes a workplace free of ETS. Even where there is no state mandate to provide a smoke-free workplace, employers face potential liability for “intentional harm” lawsuits if they are not taking this step to protect employees.
Do Policies Help?
According to NIOSH, tobacco use not only threatens employees’ health and well-being but also results in decreased productivity, increased absenteeism, and increased workplace maintenance costs. NIOSH claims that science-based interventions and policies, when implemented in the workplace, can effectively reduce and eliminate smoking and the use of other tobacco products and can encourage those who want to quit.
Research has shown that workers at worksites that adopted or maintained smoke-free policies were twice as likely to quit smoking as were those whose worksites did not implement such policies.
What’s in Your Policy?
Whatever the law, employers can limit liability by instituting a smoke-free workplace policy. Smoking bans in several states and municipalities have been extended to include the use of battery-powered “e-cigarettes” indoors. However, an employer may include these products in its no-smoking policy, even though employees may argue that they are not “smoking.” However, they these employees be generating vapors containing nicotine and other substances.
In addition, many employers are instituting policies prohibiting employees from coming to work with the smell of tobacco on their person or belongings to address employee sensitivity issues from this “third-hand smoke.”
Smoke- and Vapor-Free Workplaces
In a 2015 bulletin, NIOSH called on employers to make workplaces tobacco and e-cigarette free. At a minimum, NIOSH suggests that workplaces be smoke-free, including free of airborne emissions from e-cigarettes, in:
- All indoor areas,
- Areas immediately outside the building entrances and air intakes, and
- All work vehicles.
NIOSH suggests that all ashtrays be removed from these areas.