Researchers sampled the air in workplaces that allow smoking and found that contrary to the tobacco industry’s claims, workers are exposed to dangerous levels of secondhand smoke.
Nicotine levels in offices studied were more than triple the amount considered hazardous by U.S. regulatory standards, the researchers found in what is believed to be the largest study on secondhand smoke in the workplace.
“The tobacco industry says work exposures are trivial compared to home exposures,” said lead researcher S. Katharine Hammond, an associate professor in public health at the University of California at Berkeley. “And this paper says that’s clearly not true.”
A spokesman for the tobacco industry said the study’s methods were faulty and its conclusions contradict other research.
The findings appear in today’s issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association. The study was conducted in Massachusetts, when Hammond worked at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester.
The researchers placed 25 fiber disks treated to react to nicotine at each of 25 worksites, including fire stations, newspaper publishing facilities, textile drying plants and various manufacturing plants. The disks were left for a week in offices, cafeterias and production areas.
Nicotine levels ranged from 8.6 micrograms per cubic meter of air in open offices where smoking was allowed to 1.3 micrograms where smoking was restricted and 0.3 micrograms where smoking was banned. In non-office areas, the levels were 2.3 micrograms, 0.7 micrograms and 0.2 micrograms, respectively.
Exposure to an average of 2.3 micrograms of nicotine per cubic meter of air for eight hours a day over 40 years creates a lung cancer risk of three in 10,000, the researchers said, citing previous research.
Secondhand smoke is believed to have an even greater effect on heart disease. Studies have estimated that secondhand smoke may cause 30,000 to 50,000 U.S. non-smokers to die each year from heart disease, compared with 3,000 similar deaths from lung cancer, the researchers said.
Hammond believes the Massachusetts worksites are typical of other American workplaces.
Tom Lauria, a spokesman for the Tobacco Institute, a Washington-based trade group, said Hammond’s method of monitoring at fixed locations failed to account for varying amounts of time employees actually spent at those locations.
xxxx DEADLY TOLL Secondhand smoke may cause 30,000 to 50,000 U.S. non-smokers to die each year from heart disease.