Certain Occupations Face Greater Risk of Second Hand Smoke

November 5, 2013

Workplace smoking bans designed to minimize employee exposure to secondhand smoke are nothing new; all states have them, though specific laws vary. A new study suggests they generally work, too, though coverage gaps and regulatory difficulties still leave certain occupational and population groups comparatively vulnerable.

The Boston Globe reports that new research released this week at the American Public Health Association's Annual Meeting in Boston suggests that at least one anti-smoking ban -- the Massachusetts Smoke-Free Workplace law -- decreased employee's exposure to environmental tobacco from 8 percent in 2003 to 5.4 percent in 2010. Nonetheless, blue-collar and trade workers reported much higher rates of secondhand smoke exposure. Though just 3 percent of nonsmokers in professional fields -- like software engineering or education -- report such exposure, 37 percent of blue collar workers -- like air conditioning mechanics and auto body workers -- said the same. Construction workers and transportation workers also reported exposure rates in excess of 20 percent. The results also suggest that males, non-whites and younger workers also experience higher-than-average levels of exposure, regardless of industry.

"We're seeing a steady decline in prevalence of exposure, but it's clear that there are still specific groups of workers that deserve our attention," Kathleen Fitzsimmons, lead researcher of the study, said in a statement acquired by ScienceDaily. She noted that such research is helpful for "evaluating comprehensive statewide smoke-free workplace laws and for targeting interventions to reduce risks."

Why is secondhand smoke exposure so much more prevalent in blue-collar professions? ScienceDaily notes that it is more difficult to regulate secondhand smoke exposure in some of these fields because the state mandate protects workers in closed, indoor settings only; employees in areas like construction are often outdoors. Even some enclosed spaces are difficult to regulate, like vehicles driven by transportation workers.

This is not to say that secondhand smoke is a non-issue for professional groups. Researchers caution that secondhand smoke is still perceived as a health threat, even when that exposure seems relatively low.

"According to the U.S. Surgeon General, secondhand smoke is hazardous to health and there is no safe level of exposure," said Fitzsimmons.

ScienceDaily reports that the researchers used data from the Massachusetts Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System to capture the prevalence of secondhand smoke exposure among workers of various ages, ethnicities and industries.

Fitzsimmons notes that it is the first population-based analysis determining the effectiveness of workplace smoking bans in Massachusetts. HealthDay News cautions, however, that any research presented at medical meetings should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Compiled by Aimee Hosler


"Despite workplace ban, many blue-collar workers still exposed to secondhand smoke," boston.com, November 3, 2013, Kay Lazar, http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/2013/11/04/despite-workplace-ban-many-blue-collar-workers-still-exposed-secondhand-smoke/S9y4BUhbgWcfNueYRNveNL/story.html

"Exposure to Secondhand Smoke at Work On the Decline but Gaps Remain," sciencedaily.com, November 4, 2013, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131104035200.htm

ScienceDaily"Gaps in Smoke-Free Workplace Law Leave Many Exposed," healthday.com, November 4, 2013, http://consumer.healthday.com/cancer-information-5/cigarette-smoking-tobacco-health-news-665/briefs-emb-11-4-12amet-secondhand-smoke-apha-meeting-release-batch-995-681613.html

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