August 09, 2019
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Smoke-free laws may decrease workplace secondhand smoke exposure

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Sara Luckhaupt
Sara Luckhaupt

Nonsmoking workers in states without comprehensive smoke-free laws are more likely to be frequently exposed to workplace secondhand smoke than workers in states with comprehensive smoke-free laws, according to findings published in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

“The industries with the highest prevalence of secondhand smoke exposure and the highest number of exposed workers include outdoor workplaces and other settings that are unlikely to be protected by smoke-free laws,” Sara Luckhaupt, MD, MPH, an epidemiologist with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health at the CDC, wrote in an email to Healio Pulmonology. “The current study is the first to examine differences in the prevalence of frequent exposure to workplace secondhand smoke among nonsmoking U.S. workers by smoke-free policy status in the workers’ states of residence and in detailed industry categories and subcategories, so we are not sure whether exposure has changed among these subgroups over time.”

Luckhaupt and colleagues examined secondhand smoke exposure in the workplace among employed adults aged at least 18 years via a survey that asked, “During the past 12 months, while at work, how often were you exposed to tobacco smoke from other people?” Response options included “never,” “less than twice a week,” “twice a week or more, but not every day” and “every day,” with frequent exposure to secondhand smoke being defined as twice a week or more and any exposure being defined as any response other than “never.” Types of venues included in the analysis were private worksites, restaurants and bars, and each state’s smoke-free law status was placed into one of four categories: no law or noncomprehensive law, 100% smoke-free in one venue category, 100% smoke free in two venue categories and 100% smoke-free in all three venue categories.

In 2015, 19.9% of nonsmoking workers reported any exposure to secondhand smoke at work and 10.1% reported frequent exposure during the previous 12 months. The prevalence of secondhand smoke exposure was highest among nonsmoking workers in the commercial and industrial machinery and equipment subcategory of the repair and maintenance industry (65.1%), followed by workers in the air, rail, pipeline and scenic and sightseeing transportation industries (55.8%), the researchers reported.

At 8.6%, the prevalence of frequent workplace secondhand smoke exposure was lowest among workers across all industries and venue categories in states with comprehensive smoke-free laws, whereas states with smoking restriction laws in one category or no smoking restriction laws had prevalences of 12.2% and 11%, respectively.

“Secondhand smoke exposure is an important public health issue,” Luckhaupt said. “Clinicians often ask patients about exposure to secondhand smoke in the home; secondhand smoke exposure in the workplace may also be affecting patients’ health.” – by Eamon Dreisbach

Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.