The exposure of bar and restaurant staff to tobacco smoke from patrons can be as high as the exposure of active smokers, according to a study in the March 9 issue of the New Zealand Medical Journal. Wael Al-Delaimy, the study’s principal author, is currently a research fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health in the Department of Nutrition.
The study showed that among nonsmoking workers, hair nicotine levels varied strongly according to the smoke-free policy at their place of work. Hair nicotine levels among nonsmokers working in places with no restriction on smoking were similar to hair nicotine levels of active smokers.
This finding was possible through the use of a novel method for measuring exposure to tobacco smoke. Hair samples close to the scalp are taken from participants and then analyzed using biochemical assays for levels of exposure. Previous research suggests that nicotine comes into the hair shaft through the bloodstream after being inhaled.
“This study demonstrates very clearly the harm that is being inflicted upon nonsmokers who are exposed to tobacco smoke from others in the workplace, what is called environmental tobacco smoke or passive smoking,” Al-Delaimy said. “Through this new measure we were able to document the exposure, and research has shown that passively exposed individuals experience higher incidence of lung cancer, cardiovascular diseases, respiratory illnesses, and other tobacco-related adverse effects compared to those who are not exposed.”
The study recommends that the smoke-free legislation of New Zealand (where the study was carried out) be extended to cover the hospitality work force.
The Massachusetts legislature is currently considering a bill that would ban smoking in all work sites in the state.
The study was funded by Action on Smoking and Health, a nonprofit advocacy group in New Zealand and the University of Otago in New Zealand.