NIOSH Recommends Workplace Bans Include E-Cigarettes

By Roy Maurer Apr 8, 2015
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The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends that all employers establish and maintain smoke-free workplaces that protect employees from secondhand exposure to tobacco smoke and airborne emissions from e-cigarettes, and also provide tobacco cessation sup­port for users.

NIOSH recommends that workplaces, at a minimum, should have smoke-free policies for all indoor areas, all areas immediately outside the building entrances and air intakes, and all work vehicles.

“Workers who use tobacco products, or who are employed in workplaces where smoking is allowed, are exposed to carcinogenic and other toxic components of tobacco and to­bacco smoke,” said John Howard, director of NIOSH. “In addition to direct adverse effects of tobacco on the health of workers who use tobacco products or are exposed to secondhand smoke, tobacco products used in the workplace … can worsen the hazardous effects of other workplace exposures,” he said.

Workplace Exposure Declining

Since publication of the first Surgeon General’s Report on the health consequences of smoking in 1965, cigarette smoking in the United States has declined by more than 50 percent among all U.S. adults, to about 18 percent in 2013.

From 2004-11, cigarette smoking among workers varied widely by industry, ranging from about 10 percent in education services to more than 30 percent in construction, mining, and accom­modation and food services. A recent survey of U.S. adults found that by 2013, approximately 30 percent of current smokers reported having used e-cigarettes. About 3 percent of workers reported using chewing tobacco and snuff, a rate that rose among construction workers (10 percent) and workers in the mining industry (20 percent).

The implementation of smoke-free policies has eliminated or substantially decreased ex­posure to secondhand smoke in many U.S. workplaces, according to NIOSH. “But millions of nonsmoking workers not covered by these policies are still exposed,” said Howard.

A 2009-10 survey found that 20.4 percent of nonsmoking U.S. workers experienced exposure to secondhand smoke at work at least one day a week. Another survey conducted at about the same time estimated that 10.4 percent of nonsmoking U.S. workers experienced exposure at work on at least two days per week.

NIOSH Recommendations

The agency recommends that employers:

  • At a minimum, establish and maintain smoke-free workplaces and offer tobacco cessation support programs.
  • Comply with current regulations that prohibit or limit smoking, smoking materials, or use of other tobacco products in work areas characterized by the presence of explosive or highly flammable materials or potential exposure to toxic materials.
  • Provide information on tobacco-related health risks and on the benefits of quitting to all employees and other workers at the worksite, such as contractors and volunteers.
  • Make sure all workers, including workers who use tobacco and nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke at their workplace, know the occupational safety and health risks associated with their work, including those that can be made worse by personal tobacco use, and how to limit those risks.
  • Develop, implement and modify tobacco-related policies, interventions, and controls in a participatory manner with employees, labor represen­tatives, line management, occupational safety and health professionals, and HR.
  • Make sure that any employment benefits policies that are based on to­bacco use or participation in tobacco cessation programs are designed to comply with all applicable federal, state and lo­cal laws and regulations. Some employers have policies that prohibit employees from using tobacco away from work or that bar the hiring of smokers or tobacco users; however, “the ethics of these policies remain under debate, and they may be legally prohibited in some jurisdictions,” said Howard.

Workplace Tobacco Use Cessation Programs

Employees who want to quit their tobacco use can benefit from employer-provided resources and assistance, said Howard. Various levels and types of cessation support can be provided to workers, including providing onsite occupational health counseling, referrals to publicly funded state quitlines staffed by counselors trained specifically to help smokers quit, mobile phone texting interventions and web-based interventions. The most comprehensive workplace cessa­tion programs incorporate tobacco cessation support into programs that address the overall safety, health and well-being of workers, said Howard. “A growing evidence base supports the enhanced effectiveness of workplace health promotion programs when they are combined with oc­cupational health protection programs.”

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him @SHRMRoy

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