U.S. Urges Smoke-Free Workplaces


ATLANTA—Whether it's smoldering tobacco or gurgling vape, the federal government wants it out of the workplace, even in smoking-intensive industries like construction.

A new scientific bulletin calls on U.S. employers to prohibit smoking and vaping in all workplaces and to offer tobacco-cessation programs to workers.

Beyond the well-documented case against tobacco, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends that workplaces shun Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS) or e-cigarettes because they have not been well-studied, according to a Current Intelligence Bulletin issued April 2.

The 102-page document, “Promoting Health and Preventing Disease and Injury Through Workplace Tobacco Policies,” is aimed at preventing occupational injury and illness related to tobacco use, while improving the general health and well-being of workers, according to NIOSH.

The new recommendations are built upon previous ones regarding tobacco use in the workplace; they incorporate public review and comment on an earlier draft document.

Tobacco Hazards

“This Current Intelligence Bulletin marks a half century since the first Surgeon General’s Report on the health consequences of smoking,” said NIOSH Director John Howard, M.D.  

That 1964 landmark report, “Smoking and Health,” released by Surgeon General Dr. Luther Terry, was the first federal government report linking smoking and ill health, including lung cancer and heart disease.

According to the latest data, cigarette smoking causes about one of every five deaths in the U.S. each year, the Centers for Disease Control reports. Moreover, CDC indicates that smoking is estimated to cause:

  • More than 480,000 deaths annually;
  • 278,544 deaths annually among men; and
  • 201,773 deaths annually among women.
construction project
pacman5 / Wikimedia Commons

Tobacco use varies among industries. More than 30 percent of construction workers smoke.

All of the figures include deaths from secondhand smoke.

A variety of cancers as well as respiratory, cardiovascular, metabolic and other diseases are associated with tobacco use, according to the CDC.

Workplace Recommendations

“While cigarette smoking in the U.S. has declined more than 50 percent among all U.S. adults [since the first Surgeon General’s Report], about 20 percent of all U.S. workers still smoke, and far too many nonsmoking workers are still exposed to secondhand smoke at work,” according to  Howard.

In the construction industry, for instance, smoking prevalence among workers exceeds 30 percent, the bulletin says. For construction trades helpers, that number jumps to 49.5 percent.

As a result, NIOSH recommends that, at a minimum, employers establish and maintain smoke-free workplaces that protect workers from involuntary, secondhand exposures to tobacco smoke and airborne emissions from e-cigarettes and other electronic nicotine delivery systems.


NIOSH is the federal agency that conducts research and makes recommendations to prevent worker injury and illness.

The agency says smoke-free zones should encompass:

  • All indoor areas without exceptions (i.e., even smoking areas that are separately enclosed and/or ventilated);
  • All areas immediately outside building entrances and air intakes; and
  • All work vehicles.

Additionally, NIOSH urges all employers to assure compliance with OSHA and MSHA regulations that prohibit or otherwise restrict smoking, smoking materials, and/or use of other tobacco products in designated hazardous work areas.

Ideally, all tobacco use would be prohibited throughout the entire workplace, according to NIOSH.

This is the first NIOSH guidance to include recommendations regarding e-cigarettes. Because of the limited data available on the safety of exposure to e-cigarette emissions, the institute recommends including these products in indoor smoking bans.

About one in three current U.S. adult smokers reports having used e-cigarettes, NIOSH reports.

Support Programs

NIOSH also recommends that employers help current smokers quit  by offering tobacco-cessation support programs and providing information on publicly available programs.

iStock.com / coolmilo

NIOSH wants employers not only to ban smoking on the job, but to help workers kick the habit altogether.

The bulletin says employers should provide all workers, including volunteers and contractors, with tobacco-related health risk information.

Further, employers should provide workers with information regarding employer-provided and publically available tobacco-cessation support services, NIOSH adds.

To increase participation by lower-wage workers, the employer should provide these services at no cost or subsidized, according to the report.

Where feasible, these programs should be made available and promoted to workers’ dependents as well, NIOSH says.

NIOSH is the federal agency that conducts research and makes recommendations to prevent worker injury and illness.


Tagged categories: Business matters; Health & Safety; Health and safety; NIOSH; North America; Worker training; Workers

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