Disparity In Protecting Food Service Employees From Secondhand Smoke Underscores Need for Comprehensive Smoke-Free Policies

Statement by American Cancer Society, American Lung Association, American Heart Association and Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

Apr. 12 2004

Washington, DC — As a growing number of states, communities, and private businesses implement smoke-free workplace policies to protect workers from the health hazards of secondhand smoke, a new study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine finds that some segments of the workforce are not receiving this important protection. The study, “Disparities in Smoke-Free Workplace Policies Among Food Service Workers,” finds that just 43 percent of the country’s 6.6 million food preparation and service employees and just 52 percent of all blue-collar workers are covered by smoke-free workplace policies, while more than three-fourths of white-collar workers are covered. Fewer than 13 percent of bartenders and 28 percent of waiters and waitresses have the benefit of a smoke-free workplace.

This study, which was published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine and funded by the American Legacy Foundation, underscores the need for state and local governments to enact comprehensive smoke-free workplace laws that protect all workers and all customers from the proven dangers of secondhand smoke. All workers have the right to breathe clean air regardless of the occupation they choose. The negative effects of secondhand smoke are not exclusive to any one industry or type of employee.

Bartenders, restaurant servers, prep cooks and all the others who comprise the food service industry deserve the same protection from the harmful toxins in second hand smoke responsible for at least 38,000 deaths each year in America. While the report notes that 90 percent of teachers in the U.S. are protected, bartenders are the least protected, with less than 15 percent working in places that restrict smoking.

In 2002 food service workers in the U.S. accounted for the fourth highest number of employees in the workforce. One in five such workers is a teenager, 55.8 percent are female; approximately 12 percent are African-American and nearly 20 percent are Hispanic. Secondhand smoke exposure is a “significant, although entirely preventable, cause of premature mortality among U.S. workers,” the report claims.

Smoke-free policies protect everyone's right to breathe clean air -- workers, visitors and patrons alike -- without harming business. There is simply no excuse for policymakers failing to enact policies that will protect all their citizens in every state and every community.

Smoke-free policies protect health: Secondhand smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals, including 69 known carcinogens such as formaldehyde, lead, arsenic, benzene, and radioactive polonium 210. It is a scientifically proven cause of serious health problems, including lung cancer, heart disease and lung ailments such as bronchitis and asthma. A study issued in 2002 by the International Agency for Research on Cancer of the World Health Organization concluded, “Nonsmokers are exposed to the same carcinogens as active smokers. Even the typical levels of passive exposure have been shown to cause lung cancer" among people who have never smoked. Studies have shown that secondhand smoke is responsible nationally for thousands of deaths each year. Children exposed to secondhand smoke are especially vulnerable, suffering more asthma, bronchitis, ear infections and other ailments.

Smoke-free does not hurt business and may have a positive impact: Independent, objective and peer-reviewed studies of smoke-free restaurant laws around the country show there is no long-term negative impact on restaurant sales or employment from these policies. A report released last month dispelled tobacco industry-generated rumors that New York City’s smoke-free policy is bad for business. The report, released by the New York City Department of Finance, Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Department of Small Business Services, and Economic Development Corporation, indicates that since New York City’s smoke-free policy took effect March 30, 2003, business receipts for restaurants and bars have increased, employment has risen, the number of liquor licenses has increased, virtually all establishments are complying with the law, the vast majority of New Yorkers support the law, and customers and workers alike are being protected from the harmful health effects of secondhand smoke.

According to the 2004 Zagat New York City Restaurant Survey, which polled nearly 30,000 New York restaurant-goers, "the city's recent smoking ban, far from curbing restaurant traffic, has given it a major lift." In fact, the survey reports that by a margin of almost 6-to-1, respondents said they are eating out more often because of the city's smoke-free workplace policy.

This evidence has spurred the growing, bipartisan momentum across the country to protect everyone's right to breathe clean, smoke-free air. Five states – California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine and New York – have now enacted strong statewide smoke-free laws that include restaurants and bars, and Massachusetts is on the verge of doing so. Florida, Idaho and Utah have also enacted otherwise strong, statewide smoke-free laws that exempt stand-alone bars. A growing number of cities and counties across the country have also taken action. States and communities can rest assured that they can act to protect health without harming business.

 

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