World No Tobacco Day (31 May) spearheads a year-long initiative and provides great opportunities to promote smoke-free work and its many benefits across the globe, writes Richard Jones CFIOSH.
Before smoke-free enclosed workplaces were mandated in the UK, it was estimated that over 600 lives were lost annually due to work-related passive smoking (Jamrozik, BMJ, 2005). Using this figure now, 15 years later, potentially more than 9,000 worker lives may have been saved, just through this one preventive measure alone.
The WHO, recognising the enormous human toll from tobacco, which it estimates at more than 8 million deaths per year, also reports that more than 80% of the 1.3 billion tobacco users live in low- and middle-income countries, contributing to poverty by diverting household spending from basic needs.
World No Tobacco Day also highlighted the extensive environmental damage it causes, harming both the planet and human health. As well as the negative social impact, the ecological damage includes deforestation, water usage and waste disposal. WHO estimates that it annually costs the world 600 million trees, 200,000 hectares of land, 22 billion tonnes of water and 84 million tonnes of CO2. It also results in 4.5 trillion discarded cigarettes each year, with their filters polluting our land and water systems.
For the many governments and organisations seeking to address this and implement the UN Sustainable Development Goals, ensuring decent, healthy work, free from environmental tobacco smoke is a key contributor, supporting SDGs 1 (no poverty), 3 (health and wellbeing), 6 (clean water) and 8 (decent work).
Fig.1 Relevant UN Sustainable Development Goals icons
It is now 17 years since the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) came into force, legally binding ratifying countries, currently 182 parties. Article 8, Protection from exposure to tobacco smoke, obliges parties to provide for protection from exposure to tobacco smoke in indoor workplaces, public transport, indoor public places and other public places, as appropriate.
A coalition of NGOs, called The Smoke Free Partnership, is working on advocacy linked to the implementation of the FCTC. In 2020, SFP worked to monitor smoke free policies in Europe and their implementation at national level, updating its Smoke-free Map and supporting policy materials as well as making recommendations on the implementation of the European Council’s ‘Smoke-free Environments’ document (2009/C296/02).
'Concerningly, WHO estimates that the global annual tobacco death toll includes around 1.2 million deaths from exposure to second-hand smoke'
The SFP Smokefree Map (based on a survey circulated to 43 countries in 2019) aims to highlight those it believes are providing sufficient and effective protection from second-hand smoke and those which could improve through better legislation and compliance. It uses the following colour-coded system:
These countries follow the letter and the spirit of the guidelines of Article 8 of the WHO FCTC: smoke-free legislation is both very strong and strongly enforced. As a result, smoking in workplaces, hospitality venues such as bars and restaurants and other public places is negligible.
These countries follow the letter of the guidelines of Article 8 of the WHO FCTC: smoke-free legislation is both strong and well enforced.
These countries offer limited protection to European citizens: many public areas may be smoke-free but 100% protection is unattainable due to exemptions or strong legislation is weakened due to poor compliance.
These countries offer little or no protection to European citizens: smoke-free legislation is both weak and unenforced. Consequently, exposure to second-hand smoke is high.
Fig.2 Overall ratings for European countries surveyed (Source: SFP SmokeFree Map)
Concerningly, WHO estimates that the global annual tobacco death toll includes around 1.2 million deaths from exposure to second-hand smoke.
Forward-looking policymakers and employers already recognise that decent, healthy work is a fundamental right and that workers should be protected from passive smoke at work and associated disease, disability and premature death. And responsible organisations are providing encouragement and support for workers to give up smoking and improve their health and that of their co-workers, offering extra help if workers are experiencing any additional pressures.
Occupational safety and health (OSH) and other professionals worldwide can use the opportunity of initiatives such as ‘World No Tobacco Day’ (and its resources) to raise awareness and support more decision-makers to ensure work is smoke-free, protecting human health and sustainable futures.
Richard is former head of policy and regulatory engagement at IOSH.