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Exposure to Secondhand Smoke at Work on the Decline, but Gaps Remain

New policy changes have led to decreased exposure to environmental tobacco smoke at work, yet workers in some occupations still experience a high prevalence of secondhand smoke, according to new research released at the American Public Health Association’s 141st Annual Meeting in Boston.

The study analyzes worker exposure to secondhand smoke following a Massachusetts mandate in 2004, the Smoke-Free Workplace Law, in which all enclosed workplaces were required to be smoke free.

“According to the U.S. Surgeon General, secondhand smoke is hazardous to health and there is no safe level of exposure,” said Kathleen Fitzsimmons, MPH, lead researcher of the study. “This is the first analysis of population-based state-level data that looks at exposure to on-the-job secondhand smokeamong Massachusetts workers over time since the law went into effect.”

According to the study, overall, the prevalence of exposure to environmental tobacco smoke at work decreased from 8 percent in 2003 to 5.4 percent in 2010. While results indicated an overall decrease in exposure, certain groups still maintained high exposure to secondhand smoke. Workers in installation, repair and maintenance had the highest prevalence in exposure to environmental tobacco smoke with 37.4%.

The construction and extraction along with transportation and material moving industries also cited high exposure with 22.6% and 19.8% prevalence of exposure, respectively. These three occupation groups often work in settings that are either not covered by the law such as outdoor space or private homes, or in which the law is difficult to enforce, such as vehicles.

Additionally, exposure to environmental tobacco smoke at work was more prevalent among male, nonwhite, and younger workers.

Using data from the Massachusetts Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, researchers captured the prevalence of secondhandsmoke exposure for workers of varying age, ethnicity and occupational group from 2003 to 2010. An analysis tracked changes over time in secondhand smoke exposure prevalence following the 2004 policy change.

“We’re seeing a steady decline in prevalence of exposure, but it’s clear that there are still specific groups of workers that deserve our attention. Findings like these that combine information about occupation and environmental tobacco smoke provide helpful information for evaluatingcomprehensive statewide smoke-free workplace laws and for targeting interventions to reduce risks,” Fitzsimmons said.

— Source: American Public Health Association