Protecting Yourself and Family Members in the Workplace

"We have an industry that for 40 years sold a product that was deadly, and said it wasn't, and sold a product that was addictive, and said it wasn't. And now they want to be granted immunity. I think that's wrong."

C. Everett Koop, M.D.
Former U.S. Surgeon General
Citizens for Clean Air and Clean Lungs

It is important to remember that smokers have either come to the false conclusion that smoking isn't that bad for them (or other people) or they are unable to control their addiction to nicotine. Either way, they generally do not understand the discomfort, irritation and health problems that their tobacco addiction brings to others.

While many nonsmokers become impatient and angry with smokers, we must realize that most smokers are victims. The tobacco companies, together forming a billion dollar indsutry, hires top market researchers, scientists and other professionals to influence the buying habits of potential consumers. Further, they pick on the weakest members of our society. Remember that that most smokers began smoking around 13-14 years of age. Many of these naive individuals have lower self-esteem, suffer social problems or come from less-stable home environments.

Therefore, be firm but understanding with smokers. Due to their addiction, they have lost track of reality. They wheeze, cough and spit up phlem as they are slowly killing themselves. Shortly after finishing their last cigarette their body begins demanding another. They no longer taste food as they used to; they cannot run or be athletic as they once could; and in general, they are a slave to this nasty habit.

How Smoking Affects You
On-the-job exposure to second-hand smoke can be four times higher than in the home.

Second-hand smoke can irritate your eyes, nose and throat.

Some workers are already exposed to substances that can cause lung disease. Second-hand smoke in the workplace can only increase the danger.

To protect nonsmokers from second-hand smoke, the workplace must be totally smoke free or smoking must be limited to a separate, enclosed area with its own ventilations system. As of 1991, about 4 of 10 American companies with smoking policies were smoke free.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has determined that second-hand smoke may cause lung cancer in exposed workers.

What You Can Do
Find out your company's smoking policy. Ask what steps have been taken to protect the nonsmoker from second-hand smoke.

If you are not satisfied with the policy, talk to your employer. If you need additional assistance, contact one of the groups listed here for more information.

Hold an informal meeting with the individuals who are smoking. In many cases, smokers will voluntarily obstain from smoking once they know that their activity is irritating others.

Be a leader in helping to write a fair plan for a smoke-free workplace. Ask coworkers what they want and would be willing to do.

If your workplace is not smoke free, use "Thank You for Not Smoking" signs in your work area.

Know the law. If you work in a school, hospital or other public facility, you already may be covered by a law prohibiting smoking. Some laws also require privately owned companies to have a smoking policy. In most states, employers must provide reasonably safe workplaces. This law may prove more powerful non that second-hand smoke is known to cause cancer.


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