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Food Service Workers at Greatest Health Risk
A 2004 study Finds Blue-Collar and Service Workers Are the Least Protected From Exposure to Secondhand Smoke

More than half of the food service workers in the U.S. are at risk from exposure to job-related secondhand smoke according to a study funded by the American Legacy Foundation. In a ranking of 38 major occupations, food service workers ranked at the bottom of those workers protected by smoke-free workplace policies. White-collar workers, including teachers and healthcare workers, have the greatest protections from secondhand smoke on the job.

Secondhand smoke is a leading preventable cause of death among nonsmokers in the United States, causing an estimated 38,000 deaths per year according to the Centers for Disease Control. But millions more get sick from asthma, pneumonia, bronchitis and other respiratory diseases related to secondhand smoke exposure. American Legacy Foundation President and CEO Dr. Cheryl Healton says this bottom-tier smoke-free policies ranking for bar and restaurant workers is an important and life-saving social justice issue.

"Clearly, we have seen progress in protecting white-collar workers from secondhand smoke, but we have done a poor job of protecting blue-collar and service workers," said Dr. Healton. "These same individuals are least likely to have access to quality healthcare and smoking cessation resources, so we are compounding the problem for this important segment of the workforce by having them work under conditions where they are not protected from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke."

Even among food service workers, considerable variation was seen in those with a smoke-free policy. Individuals whose job responsibilities involved direct interaction with customers reported significantly lower rates of smoke-free policies than those who were primarily involved in food preparation and cooking. Nearly 70 percent of kitchen workers had smoke-free policies, compared to 28 percent of waiters/waitresses and just 13 percent of bartenders.

Food service is the fourth-largest occupation in the United States, employing nearly 7 million workers, and is one of the fastest-growing segments of the workforce, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In the study, "Disparities in Smoke-free Workplace Policies Among Food Service Workers," it was found that when smoke-free policies are implemented, compliance is overwhelmingly not a problem. Among the nearly 70 percent of U.S. workers with smoke-free policies, only four percent reported a violation. Food service workers, however, reported somewhat higher rates of noncompliance than other workers, thus exposing more of these individuals to the hazards of job-related secondhand smoke.

The study was published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, and authored by Donald R. Shopland of the U.S. Public Health Service (retired), Ringgold, GA; Christy Anderson and David Burns of the University of California at San Diego, San Diego, CA; and Karen Gerlach of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Princeton, NJ. The study is based on responses from more than 250,000 indoor workers interviewed for the Current Population Survey (CPS) between 1993 and 1999. The CPS is the federal government\'s major source of information on labor force statistics.

"Smoking was eliminated from all commercial airline flights in the U.S. more than a decade ago because of concern for the health of flight attendants," said Dr. Karen Gerlach of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and one of the co-authors of the study. "It is time we extend that same level of protection to the nearly seven million food service workers in the country," she added.

Smoke-free laws covering restaurants protect both employees and patrons and according to recent polls in New York City, these policies do not hurt business. Shortly after the New York City law went into effect, surveys of New Yorkers indicated that they were frequenting restaurants, bars and clubs more often than before the law went into effect.

Working towards creating a safe and healthy workplace free of tobacco smoke.