Outdoor smoke-free policies are becoming more common. In 2008, most of the Lexington healthcare facilities became tobacco free. By the end of 2010, most healthcare facilities in the U.S. will be smoke or tobacco free. In 2009, the entire University of Kentucky campus implemented a tobacco-free policy covering all places, indoors and out. To date, all workplaces in Lexington-Fayette County are smoke-free inside by ordinance, and some voluntarily prohibit smoking outdoors on the grounds as well. Some restaurants/bars have decided to provide smoke-free outdoor dining to protect workers and patrons.
The primary intent of smoke-free campus policies is to create an environment that values the health of employees, patients, students, and visitors. To this end, tobacco-free institutions typically provide resources to help smokers quit. For example, UK provides 12 weeks of free nicotine replacement products along with behavioral support for those who want to quit (see www.uky.edu/Tobaccofree for more information). Indeed, many UK employees and students have quit since the tobacco-free policy went into effect.
Another goal of smoke-free campus policies is to protect people from breathing the nearly 250 chemicals in secondhand smoke (SHS) that are known to be toxic and to cause heart disease, cancer, and serious breathing conditions. There is no safe level of exposure to SHS. Yet, many in Kentucky remain exposed to SHS. To date, 27 communities are smoke-free and 17 of those local laws or regulations cover all workplaces and enclosed public places. While most of the laws require that smoking occur only at a reasonable distance from entryways, SHS may drift inside or it concentrates in outdoor spaces where smoking is still allowed. As a result, people who work in these outdoor spaces may be exposed to harmful levels of SHS.
There is emerging science that outdoor tobacco smoke (OTS) is harmful, especially for workers who endure long periods of exposure to smoke in confined outdoor areas. OTS is just as dangerous as SHS indoors, depending on the number of smokers, how close they are, and wind conditions. Servers and bartenders who spend hours in outdoor smoking sections have significantly more SHS exposure compared to the those working in smoke-free outdoor areas. Outdoor restaurant or pub workers who spend a significant portion of their time within a few feet of active smokers are likely to inhale large amounts of OTS during a work shift.
Simple separation of smokers within the same outdoor airspace does not eliminate exposure to OTS. Depending on the wind conditions and the number of smokers, for example, there may be high levels of toxic OTS in designated outdoor smoking areas, polluting the surrounding space. The general recommendation is to stay at least five feet away from one smoker and at least 20 feet away from more than one smoker, depending on the wind conditions. Making your home and car smoke-free and asking people to smoke 20 feet from doors, windows, or vents provide protection from OTS.
For more information about OTS or smoke-free policy, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 859-323-4587.
Ellen J. Hahn, PhD, RN, Professor and Director, Clean Indoor Air Partnership, University of Kentucky College of Nursing and College of Public Health