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The Dangers of Tobacco Smoking in the Workplace

Posted by EHS Insight Resources on February 18, 2020 at 9:58 AM

Once upon a time, tobacco smoking was considered good for you. These days, we know that the opposite is true – smoking is actually the leading cause of preventable death worldwide.

And while tobacco use continues to decline, smoking is still prevalent among certain industries. This leaves certain workers at a higher risk of tobacco-related illness.

Here’s what you need to know about smoking in the workplace to keep your workers safe every day.

Smoking by Industry, Career, and Gender

Smoking is on the decline among the general population, but it is still prevalent among workers. In fact, a study of U.S. adults from 2004 to 2010 found that 19.6% of workers smoked.

However, smoking was most common for:

  • Workers with no health insurance (28.6%)
  • Workers with less than a high school education (28.4%)
  • Workers living below the federal poverty level (27.7%)
  • Workers aged 18 to 24 (23.8%)

Ironically, those with no health insurance and those living below the federal poverty line are among those with the greatest risk of harm, since they have significantly reduced access to healthcare compared to those with health insurance and greater income.

Cigarette smoking by industry ranged from 30% in mining to 9.7% in education services, though the industries that used tobacco the most were construction, mining, transportation, and warehousing.

The highest tobacco usage was seen among construction workers. Of the 9.3 million construction workers in the industry, 34.3% of those workers used tobacco products in some form.

There are also notable gender differences in smoking by occupation. One study of workers from 2004 to 2011 found that while men were more likely to be smokers than women (22.8% of male workers smoke, compared to 18.3% of female workers), women were more likely to be everyday smokers.

Health Risks of Smoking

The prevalence of smoking is declining because of increased awareness of the dangers of smoking.

Lung cancer is the best-known health hazard of smoking, but smoking harms nearly every organ in the body. Smokers are far more likely than non-smokers to develop heart disease, stroke, and cancer.

Smoking is even associated with hearing loss. One study found that smokers were 60% more likely to develop high-frequency hearing loss than non-smokers.

This is because of the Eustachian tube, a canal connecting the middle ear with the back of the nose and the throat. When you breathe in cigarette smoke, you can actually damage your inner ear through this canal.

The Dangers of Secondhand Smoke Exposure

Even non-smokers can be put at risk when they’re around smokers.

There is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke, no matter how minor the exposure is. Breathing in secondhand smoke means that you’re still breathing in nicotine, which is known to narrow blood vessels and decrease the amount of available oxygen carried by your blood.

Secondhand smoke exposure is known to cause heart disease, lung cancer, stroke, reproductive problems, and respiratory illnesses, especially if exposure is prolonged.

Workplace Smoke-Free Policies

If you want to keep your workers safe, the best place to start is by instituting–and enforcing–a smoke-free workplace. The workplace is actually a major source of secondhand smoke exposure for adults, which makes workplace health and safety policies on the subject incredibly important.

In several states, you’re legally obligated to maintain a smoke-free workplace. Currently, 27 states and the District of Columbia have adopted legislation requiring non-hospitality workplaces, bars, and restaurants to be completely smoke-free. Smoking was also banned on federal property and airplanes in 1997.

To fully understand your responsibilities as an employer, you’ll need to study state and local laws on the subject. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulates workplace tobacco exposure through 29 CFR 1910.1000, which does not allow exposure to surpass certain levels.

Combating Tobacco Smoking in the Workplace

Tobacco smoking is declining, but it’s still a serious threat to the health of your workers. It’s one thing to put policies in place. It’s another to ensure that your workers are engaging in safe workplace practices. For more occupational health and safety tips, visit the EHS Insight Blog.

Topics: OSHA, Workplace Health and Safety, Safety Culture

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