Second-Hand Smoke A Real Health Hazard For Restaurant Workers
About 70 percent of the staff at Ruby Tuesday smokes, says Kendra Maguire, manager of the restaurant in the Buckland Hills Mall in Manchester. At City Steam Brewery CafÃ© in Hartford, "most of the staff smoke," says owner Jay DuMond, a non-smoker. "I prob
In the mid-1980s, the Environmental Protection Agency began listing second-hand smoke as a Class A carcinogen - known to cause cancer in humans. "There are very few Class A carcinogens. That's equivalent to asbestos or benzene," says Lori Fresina, spokeswoman for the American Cancer Society's Smoke Free New England.
Numerous studies show a 20 percent higher risk for developing lung cancer from prolonged exposure to second-hand smoke. The higher the exposure, the higher the risk. Exposure in the workplace or through a smoking spouse is most strongly tied to increased risk, says the National Toxicology Program's carcinogen report issued in May 2000.
The level of second-hand tobacco smoke measured 1-1/2 to two times higher in restaurants and almost four to six times higher in bars than in office workplaces or homes where one person smokes, according to studies cited in the report.
"It has been proven that workers in bars and restaurants have a higher incidence of lung disease," says Cassandra Welch, director of Field Advocacy for the American Lung Association.
Yet, restaurateurs in the Hartford area say they have no trouble finding staff to work in dining rooms and bars where smoking is allowed.
"Sometimes women who are pregnant do not wish to serve in the lounge area," and that request is honored, says John Calcaterra, manager at Outback Steak House in Newington, which has a smoke-free dining area and a bar where patrons can smoke.
Connecticut law protects some workers with clean air in the workplace, but not restaurant and bar staff, says Fresina. They are part of a work force that never felt it had a choice about working in a smoke-free environment, but the American Cancer Society sees this as a workers' rights issue, Fresina says.
The lung association agrees.
"We think it is very important that states protect all workers, not just those working in offices," Welch says. "Everybody deserves to work in a smoke-free environment and not have to breath a Group A carcinogen."
In California, 50 bartenders were tested in 1998 before and after the state banned smoking in bars. Within one month the workers' lungs showed improvement. "There was a reduction in coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath," says Dr. Mark Eisner, a pulmonary specialist who conducted the study at the University of California in San Francisco.
People also are increasingly aware that nicotine is an addictive substance and that second-hand smoke causes cancer and other illnesses, says Michael Lauzier, of the American Lung Association of Connecticut.
Fourteen people die every day in Connecticut from smoking, and the state spends more than $1 billion every year on tobacco-related illnesses, says Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal.
But John Singleton, spokesman for R.J. Reynolds Co., says there are a lot of things that can be done with ventilation systems instead of banning smoking.
"We also think there's a lot more science that needs to be done to determine whether there are any health hazards associated with second-hand smoke," says Singleton, a non-smoker.
The American Cancer Society offers a smoke-free dining guide; call 800-227-2345.