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FOR RELEASE: September 19, 2002
CONTACT: Pamela Williams
405/271-5601

Health Officials Issue Advisory to Employers on Workplace Exposure to Secondhand Smoke

The Oklahoma State Department of Health today issued an advisory to employers in Oklahoma concerning the risks to their employees' health from exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke at the worksite.

Citing two new research studies published this month, the state health department reports mounting evidence that worksite exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke increases the risk for both heart disease and lung cancer in nonsmokers. Each of the new studies concluded that worksite exposure was an even greater contributor to risk of serious illness than exposure to tobacco smoke in the home.

In the first study, known as CARDIO2000 and published by the British Medical Journal, researchers reported that worksite exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke among non-smokers doubled their odds of suffering a first heart attack or unstable angina requiring hospitalization. Home exposure alone increased these odds by one-third, and exposure both at home and at work increased the chances by 2.5-fold.

Reports from earlier studies have found that the effects of secondhand smoke on the cardiovascular system include reduced exercise capability, enhanced platelet aggregation, acceleration of atherosclerotic lesions, carotid wall thickening, altered lipoprotein profiles, and increases in tissue damage following ischemia or myocardial infarction.

The second new study, published in the International Journal of Cancer, investigated causes of lung cancer among nonsmoking women. The study showed a2.6-fold increase in lung cancer risk from long-term exposure at work compared to a 1.7-fold increase from exposure for a similar time at home. The researchers suggested that the risk is higher in the workplace than in the home because there may be multiple smokers in the workplace, while at home it is more likely that there is only one smoker.

Evidence has pointed to secondhand smoke as a cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers for more than 15 years. The National Toxicology Program confirmed this conclusion in its Ninth Report to Congress on Carcinogens in 2000. The World Health Organization made a similar official determination in 2002.

An estimated 300,000 Oklahomans who work indoors are currently not protected by smoke-free policies on the job. Earlier studies of workers in different settings have shown that workers in restaurants experienced the greatest risk, with secondhand smoke exposure in restaurants being twice as high as in the offices studied. Analyses of death rates by occupation have shown food service workers to have an elevated risk for lung cancer, with the risk almost doubled for waitresses.

"While the general public should have the right to expect smoke-free air inside all public places, workers are of special concern because they spend eight hours a day in these environments," said State Health Commissioner Dr. Leslie Beitsch. "All employers are strongly encouraged to protect their employees and the public by making their indoor workplaces smoke-free."

Nationwide, an estimated 53,000 nonsmokers die each year as a result of secondhand smoke exposure. An estimated 750 of these preventable premature deaths occur in Oklahoma, comparable to the annual number of traffic fatalities on Oklahoma's roads.

For more information and links to other research findings on the risks associated with exposure to secondhand smoke in the workplace, visit this Web site: www.breatheeasyok.com.

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