Journal of Occup. & Environ. Medicine (JOEM)

Employee Exposure

Smokefree workplace policies are increasing around the country, with 33% of the U.S. population currently protected by a local or state smokefree air law, in addition to many people who work in voluntarily smokefree workplaces. Despite the continual increase in smokefree air coverage, certain workforces remain disproportionately exposed to secondhand smoke. Disparities in Smoke-Free Workplace Policies Among Food Service Workers, published in the April 2004 issue of the Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine (JOEM), finds that, of all occupational groups, food service workers are the least protected from secondhand smoke exposure at their workplace. Less than half of the nation's 6.6 million food service workers reported having a smokefree place of employment, compared to over 75% of all white-collar workers, including 90% of teachers.

The study ranked 38 major occupations on the basis of protection from secondhand smoke exposure through smokefree policies. Researchers found that white-collar workers, such as teachers and healthcare providers, have the greatest protection on the job, while food service workers fall at the other end of the spectrum.

Unfortunately, the same laws that provide for smokefree office workplaces and public places often neglect bars and restaurants, leading to a discrepancy in worker exposure to secondhand smoke. Even worse, the study found that the gap is not closing quickly enough. Food service is the fourth largest occupation in the United States, and the sector is growing. Millions of service workers are unnecessarily exposed to secondhand smoke.

The study serves as a wake-up call that far too many food service workers remain unprotected from secondhand smoke exposure and that increased efforts must be taken to include restaurants and bars in the provisions of smokefree air laws.