Passive smoking at work increases rate of sick leave among employees

Workers forced to breathe in their colleagues' cigarette smoke are significantly more likely to take sick leave and require medical attention, shows a study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

A health survey of all officers in the Hong Kong Police force showed that the longer officers were exposed to passive smoking, the more time they took off work, the more visits they made to a doctor for respiratory complaints, and the more likely they were to take medicines. The total sample survey comprised almost 10,000 officers, all of whom were healthy, just over half of whom had never smoked; 14 percent of these were women.

Non-smoking men exposed to passive smoking at work for more than a year were twice as likely to take time off and over 30 per cent more likely to have required treatment for respiratory symptoms in the preceding 14 days than their colleagues working in a smoke-free environment. The results held true even after accounting for levels of passive smoking at home.

Trends among women were similar but the numbers were too small to show significant results.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that a universal ban on workplace smoking in the United States would save up to $72 billion. There are many work environments throughout the world where employees are forced to passively smoke, to say nothing of the public places, say the authors. Workplace smoking should be banned, they conclude.


Contact: Dr. Sarah McGhee
Center for the Advancement of Health

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