Food Safety & Tobacco Use: Putting Food on America’s Tables

With millions being served by the food service industry each year, exposure to third-hand smoke is a rising concern. Smoking cessation aids can be covered under insurance plans, or made available by employers as an added measure of safety for customers.

food service

Although smoking is well-known to be hazardous for human health, putting individuals at risk for everything from lung cancer and heart disease to COPD and stroke, there are still those who can’t seem to let go of their cigarettes.

Studies have shown time and again that certain industries are also more likely to have smokers in their ranks, and food workers are among the top of the list. According for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 30% of food service and related workers use tobacco products.

Why do So Many Food Workers Smoke?

The reasons tobacco use is so prevalent among food service workers are varied. One is because these workers are often underpaid, but the job is still high-stress in nature much of the time. Smoking may help these workers to relax, both during breaks and after work. In some work environments, there may also be numerous triggers for smoking, making it hard to quit. For instance, food and coffee are often enjoyed with cigarettes by many smokers. Being around these items, along with customers who are also smoking, can make resisting the urge to light up too much for some individuals.

What are the Health Consequences?

For the smokers themselves, the health consequences of smoking are clear. Tobacco use leads to higher risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, COPD/emphysema, and lung cancer. Smokers are also at an increased risk of other cancers, as well. Those who live or work in close proximity to smokers may also be at risk of health problems, such as lung cancer, allergies, asthma. Infants are susceptible, too, with a higher risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

The health consequences to patrons and fellow workers, however, may not always seem as clear. Many establishments, especially those in cities which have banned smoking in food service locations, don’t allow smoking indoors. In these situations, most smokers take their habit outside. In some cases, this may be right outside the building, which still allows some second-hand smoke to enter the building.

While smoking outdoors does lessen second-hand smoke exposure for customers and other workers inside, it doesn’t prevent exposure to third-hand smoke. This refers to the nicotine and smoke residue left behind on clothing, curtains, furniture, hair, and other soft surfaces. While it’s more of an issue for indoor smokers, even those who smoke outdoors can bring some residue into enclosed areas when they enter. This residue can reenter the air and cause a host of health issues for the smokers, as well as those around them.

Like other tobacco smoke, third-hand smoke contains up to 7,000 chemicals. These compounds can mix with others in the air and create even more hazardous compounds, many of which are known to be carcinogenic. While it may seem as though the amount of smoke one food service worker could bring into a facility would be minimal, this is compounded by numerous smoke breaks per shift, and multiplied by the number of smokers who work in a given setting. Add in any customers who also smoke and the air quality in the building can be drastically reduced.

Third-hand smoke carries its own risks, such as allergies and asthma, frequent lung infections, and certain cancers. The elderly, pregnant women, and children are most at risk, but it can damage the lungs of anyone. According to a recent report by National Geographic, third-hand smoke can also settle deep inside drywall and other surfaces, and mix with dust and other particles in the air, making it an ongoing threat.

What can be Done?

The only way to fully eliminate the risk of third-hand smoke among food workers and those they serve is for them to quit altogether. There are many incentives to include smoking cessation aids in insurance plans and other programs, such as a cleanerwork place, fewer smoke breaks among workers who are heavy smokers, and healthier employees who are able to keep up with workplace demands. Aids to help with quitting are also widely available. These may include nicotine replacement therapies, prescription medications, counseling, and electronic cigarettes

For more motivation to quit smoking once and for all, visit The Real Cost of Smoking.

Read more about the effects cigarette smoke has on the human body at The Effects of Smoking.

Learn more about smoking:

Nicotine Dependence and Freedom

• How to Inspire a Smoker to Quit

• Secondhand Smoke: Think Twice

Quitting Smoking Cold Turkey