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Smoking-related toxins

Cigarette smoke contains at least 250 chemicals that cause cancer or are toxic. Many of these chemicals are already found on jobsites. These include ammonia, arsenic, and carbon monoxide. That means total chemical exposure increases for workers when they are around cigarette smoke at work.

How workers are exposed

There are three ways workers can be exposed to harmful smoking-related toxins. They are:

First-hand exposure
  • Smoking
Second-hand exposure
  • Being near a smoker and breathing in smoky air
Third-hand exposure
  • Being in a room where someone has smoked. The smoke and chemicals will settle on equipment and surfaces. Workers can be exposed by touching these surfaces or stirring the smoke into the air and inhaling it.

The dangers to workers

The health risks of smoking multiply when workers work with hazardous materials. Cigarette smoke can cause asthma and cancer. Smoke can linger on furniture, equipment, or in the air long after a smoker has left. This exposes people to smoke, nicotine, and chemicals even if they are non-smokers.

E-cigarettes contain fewer chemicals but are still harmful. E-cigarettes come in flavours, which have been found to have metals in them. These metals, combined with the nicotine, are very dangerous to inhale.

Exposure to smoke causes both short- and long-term illnesses. These include:

Short-term exposure
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Asthma attacks
  • Dizziness
  • Coughing
Long-term exposure
  • Cancer
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Bronchitis
  • Heart disease

How to reduce the risks

Not smoking is the best way for workers to protect themselves. This will significantly reduce exposure. To avoid second-hand smoke, stay away from smoky areas and areas where smokers have been.

Employers must ensure that indoor air quality meets regulated levels. The most common ways to do this are to:

  • Prohibit smoking in the workplace
  • Designate an outdoor smoking area that is three metres or more from a door, window, or fresh air intake
  • Provide proper ventilation in areas where smoking is permitted indoors