Health and Wellness

Secondhand Smoke Remains an Occupational Health Issue

Nearly one-fifth of nonsmokers were exposed to secondhand smoke at work, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in a recently published study. The CDC reported that 19.9% of nonsmokers had some exposure on the job, and 10.1% had frequent exposures.

Smoking, cigarette, secondhand smoke

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Workers in states with stricter smoke-free workplace laws had the lowest exposures. The number of states with the strictest workplace smoking bans—including indoor worksites, restaurants, and bars—went from zero to 27 from 2000 to 2015.

However, 8.6% of workers in those states that prohibit smoking in indoor worksites, restaurants, and bars were exposed to secondhand smoke. These exposures suggest that some smoke-free workplace laws may not cover all workplaces.

Smoking and secondhand smoke exposure vary widely among industries and occupations. The CDC study found that:

  • Nonsmoking workers in the commercial and industrial machinery and equipment repair and maintenance industry had the highest prevalence of secondhand smoke exposure: 65.1%;
  • The construction industry had the highest reported number of exposed workers: 2.9 million; and
  • Construction, mining, and transportation workers have the highest rates of tobacco use, which can lead to coworkers’ secondhand smoke exposures.

CDC researchers found that 34.3% of construction workers, 30.4% of those in mining, and 30.2% of workers in transportation industries use some form of tobacco.

Secondhand smoke exposure is one of the top workplace hazards for occupational cancers among nonsmokers, the CDC said.

NIOSH Advice for Employers

The CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) encourages employers to implement smoke-free workplace policies to reduce their employees’ secondhand smoke exposure and its potential for heart disease, occupational cancer, and stroke.

Smoking and secondhand smoke exposure can profoundly increase the likelihood of some occupational illnesses posed by chemical and other hazards already in the workplace. Tobacco products can become contaminated in the workplace, and smoking or secondhand smoke exposure can aid the entry of toxic agents into the body.

NIOSH suggests that employers, at a minimum, take the following actions:

  • Establish a smoke-free workplace policy that encompasses all indoor areas, without exception; areas immediately outside building entrances and air intakes; and in all work vehicles;
  • Ensure compliance with all Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations that prohibit or otherwise restrict smoking, smoking materials, and use of other tobacco products in designated hazardous work areas; and
  • Provide cessation support for employees who continue to use tobacco products.

Study Design, Limitations

The study data were collected in an Occupational Health Supplement used during the 2015 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS). The NHIS is performed annually. NIOSH sponsored the 2015 Occupational Health Supplement. The supplement collected data on several work-related conditions and exposures in addition to secondhand smoke exposure.

Sample sizes from some industries were too small, and data for those industry groups were excluded from the CDC’s analysis. The study only accounted for statewide smoke-free workplace laws and may have overlooked local jurisdictions with stricter workplace smoking ordinances.

The report appeared in the CDC’s July 12, 2019, “Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).”