Secondhand Smoke on the Clock

Secondhand smoke exposure while at work dropped in Massachusetts study

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) When a worker smokes while on the clock, their fellow employees are also exposed to harmful cigarette smoke. Authors of a new study wanted to explore if a workplace ban on smoking had reduced secondhand exposure to smoke while on the job.

The study focused on non-smoking workers in the state of Massachusetts, and found that the percentage of workers who reported being exposed to smoke on the job fell between 2003 and 2010.

However, certain groups — including male, non-white and younger workers — had higher rates of exposure than others.

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According to the authors of this new study, led by Kathleen Fitzsimmons, MPH, of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health's Occupational Health Surveillance Program in Boston, in 2004, the state of Massachusetts ruled that all enclosed workplaces with one or more employees should be smoke-free areas.

Fitzsimmons and team explored whether exposure to environmental tobacco smoke at work (ETSW) had declined in the years since this ruling, and whether there were any differences between types of jobs and smoke exposure.

The researchers relied on data from the Massachusetts Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (MBRFSS) for the years 2003 to 2010. In the MBRFSS, adult participants were asked once a year about environmental tobacco smoke at work during the week prior to being surveyed.

Fitzsimmons and team used the results to estimate environmental tobacco smoke at work for different age groups, ethnicities, genders and occupations for the year 2010 (no occupation data was available for the earlier years).

The researchers found that the prevalence of exposure to environmental tobacco smoke at work among non-smokers dropped from an estimated 8.0 percent in 2003 to an estimated 5.4 percent in 2010.

The study authors noted that prevalence of exposure to ETSW seemed to be consistently higher among male workers, non-white workers and younger workers.

In the 2010 occupation data, Fitzsimmons and team found that exposure to environmental tobacco smoke at work was higher among certain groups. Prevalence was found to be 37.4 percent among workers in installation, repair and maintenance jobs, 22.6 percent in construction and extraction jobs and 19.8 percent in transportation and material moving jobs.

The study authors noted that though exposure to environmental tobacco smoke at work seemed to decline since the mandate against smoking in workplaces was passed, the level of exposure varied for different groups by gender, ethnicity and job type.

"Certain occupation groups still have exceptionally high exposure prevalence, which raises questions about the role of employers and public health in further protecting workers from this hazard," Fitzsimmons and team concluded.

The study was presented November 4 at the American Public Health Association's 141st Annual Meeting in Boston. It is important to note that studies presented at conferences are considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

No conflicts of interest were reported.

Review Date: 
October 30, 2013
Last Updated:
November 3, 2013