Last updated: July 23. 2014 9:12AM - 164 Views
Hugh Gray Contributing Columnist

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Which would you choose: a) keeping a job that exposes you to a known cancer-causing agent or b) possibly being unemployed?

Many members of our local food service and hospitality industries face that very choice.

Secondhand smoke is the combination of “sidestream” smoke (the smoke given off by a burning tobacco product) and “mainstream” smoke (the smoke exhaled by a smoker). Servers and other staff members in businesses that allow indoor smoking inhale second-hand smoke throughout the work shift.

According to the University of Minnesota Division of Periodontology, being in a smoky room for two hours can be the same as smoking up to four cigarettes. So a single day on the job can equal more than a half of a pack of cigarettes, even for a non-smoker.

Food service workers have a 50 percent greater risk of dying from lung cancer than the general population, in part, because of secondhand smoke exposure in the workplace. The U.S. Surgeon General has declared that there is no safe level of exposure to second hand smoke.

The surgeon general has issued two reports that address the impact of breathing tobacco smoke. In a 2010 US Department of Health and Human Services Report, the surgeon general concluded that:

• The scientific evidence indicates that there is no safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke. Any exposure to tobacco smoke - even an occasional cigarette or exposure to secondhand smoke - is harmful.

• Smoking longer means more damage.

• There is no safe cigarette.

• The only proven strategy for reducing the risk of tobacco-related disease and death is to never smoke.

In another, the surgeon general identified the major conclusions listed below:

• Many millions of Americans, both children and adults, are still exposed to secondhand smoke in their homes and workplaces despite substantial programs in tobacco control.

• Secondhand smoke exposure causes disease and premature death in children and adults who do not smoke.

• Exposure of adults to secondhand smoke has immediate adverse effects on the cardiovascular system and causes coronary heart disease and lung cancer.

• Eliminating smoke in indoor spaces fully protects nonsmokers from exposure to secondhand smoke. Separating smokers from nonsmokers, cleaning the air, and ventilating buildings cannot eliminate exposures of nonsmokers to secondhand smoke.

One idea suggested to combat second-hand smoke is to improve indoor air quality with air cleaners. However, the American Society for Heating and Refrigeration Engineers has declared that there is no way to effectively remove second hand smoke from air. This means that those air cleaners don’t currently get the job done.

The Society’s guidelines say that the only way to provide clean air is to prevent smoking in the first place.

According to the South Carolina Tobacco-Free Collaborative, employees working in a business that allows other employees or customers to smoke are at risk of ongoing and, over time, substantial health effects. These employees may be in low wage jobs that do not include health insurance.

Those will either go untreated or their treatment is likely to become a public expense. Insured non-smoking employees in businesses that allow smoking can drive up group insurance rates due to frequent and sometimes expensive treatment.

The South Carolina Tobacco-Free Collaborative identifies several benefits to going smoke free beyond employee safety. Business owners who choose to go smoke-free usually find that their employee sick-days go down and productivity goes up.

Those operating retail businesses - especially restaurants, bars and hotels - usually find that their business goes up once customers know they are smoke-free. Almost 80 percent of South Carolina’s population is smoke free and generally prefers a smoke-free atmosphere.

In fact, many smokers do, as well. Business owners and communities that chose to go smoke free also realize a smoking cessation benefit. Many smokers choose to use this as an opportunity to quit smoking, multiplying the positive public health effect of such a choice.

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