Tobacco Risks

NIOSH Proposes Stepped-up Anti-Smoking Policies

NIOSH cites the reducing occupational disease and injuries — including workers’ comp costs — as the top reasons to implement workplace tobacco interventions.
By: | September 10, 2014

On the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Surgeon General’s first report on smoking and health, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has drafted a new Current Intelligence Bulletin. It focuses on things such as tobacco use among workers, exposure to secondhand smoke in the workplace, and electronic nicotine delivery systems.

“While public health efforts to prevent disease and injury caused by tobacco use have had substantial beneficial impact, millions of workers still use tobacco products and smoking is still permitted in many workplaces,” says NIOSH Director John Howard, M.D. “This draft document is aimed not just at preventing occupational injury and illness related to tobacco use but also at improving the general health and well-being of workers.”

While smokers are more likely to be injured at work than nonsmokers, specific explanations for this association are unlikely to be limited to mere distraction.

The bulletin is NIOSH’s third on the subject. It reflects “a strategy integrating occupational safety and health protection with health promotion to prevent worker injury and illness and to advance health and well-being,” according to NIOSH. Included are recommendations addressing smokeless tobacco, which is said to be “a known cause of oral cancer, esophageal cancer, and pancreatic cancer.”

The annual cost to employ a smoker averaged $5,816 more than a nonsmoker, according to a study cited in the bulletin. Included were costs associated with smoking breaks, absenteeism, presenteeism, health care expenses, and pension benefits.

Reducing occupational disease and injuries, including workers’ comp costs, was cited as one of the top reasons to implement workplace tobacco interventions. For example, use of tobacco is said to be a distracting factor for drivers who smoke, increasing the risks of accidents.

“While smokers are more likely to be injured at work than nonsmokers, specific explanations for this association are unlikely to be limited to mere distraction,” the bulletin says. “Adverse smoking-associated physiological alterations in bone mineralization, blood vessels, and inflammatory response may also contribute to higher risk of occupational injuries and higher rates of associated disability among smokers.”

Tobacco smoking among workers and exposure to secondhand smoke in the workplace have declined “substantially,” the document explains. However, about 20 percent of U.S. workers still smoke, especially in the construction, mining, and accommodation and food service industries.

The bulletin advises employers to consider:

  • Establishing and maintaining tobacco-free workplaces for all employees. The products to include are cigarettes, cigars, pipes, and smokeless tobacco. The products should be banned in all indoor areas and areas immediately outside building entrances and air intakes and all work vehicles.
  • Providing information on tobacco-related health risks and the benefits of quitting.
  • Offering and promoting more comprehensive tobacco cessation support such as employer-sponsored programs.
  • Ensuring that any employment benefits policies based on tobacco use or participation in cessation programs are designed with the main intention of improving worker health and that they comply with all applicable laws and regulations.

Nancy Grover is the president of NMG Consulting and the Editor of Workers' Compensation Report, a publication of our parent company, LRP Publications. She can be reached at [email protected].