A smoking gun Featured

5:05am EDT April 29, 2003
You've declared your business smoke-free.

But is providing a smoke-free indoor environment enough to protect nonsmokers from second-hand smoke?

"Even short-term exposure to second-hand smoke is dangerous," says Shelly Kiser, program and communications director for Tobacco Free Ohio, a nonprofit organization that is a collaboration of the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association and the U.S. Department of Health.

"Short-term exposure raises the heart rate and blood pressure, which is dangerous for people with emphysema, asthma and other diseases," says Kiser.

And second-hand smoke is classified as a Group A cancer-causing agent by the American Cancer Society. Other agents in that group include asbestos and radon.

"Arsenic, cyanide and formaldehyde are just a few of the chemicals in second-hand smoke," Kiser says. "It's not just an annoyance, it's something people shouldn't have to breathe."

At nonsmoking buildings, smoking employees gather in doorways and other places around the building, and nonsmokers are exposed to smoke as they enter the building.

Kiser recommends declaring a 25-foot smoke-free perimeter around the building.

"Sometimes smokers are smoking next to an air vent, and their smoke is getting into the ventilation system," says Kiser, another reason to declare a smoke-free perimeter.

Kiser says not only will nonsmoking employees have better protection from cigarette fumes, the perimeter can also lead to more smokers deciding to kick the habit.

"We've taken a poll here in the state of Ohio and found that most smokers want to quit," says Kiser. "And statistics show that when a public place is declared smoke-free, smokers decrease the number of cigarettes they smoke and quitting rates go up."

You can offer encouragement for smokers to quit by coupling the smoke-free perimeter with a company sponsored cessation program. And if you are concerned about a return on your investment, don't be.

"If the average employee takes a smoking break of 30 minutes a day, you are losing up to 18 days a year in productivity," Kiser says.

Add in higher insurance rates and usage, and increased costs for maintaining air handling systems, and the cost of smoking employees rises.

"It pays for businesses to go smoke-free," says Kiser. How to reach: Tobacco Free Ohio, (614) 760-2850 or www.tobaccofreeohio.org