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Butting out: In smoke-free workplaces, smokers more likely to quit, study finds

By Kathy Scalise, Public Affairs
Posted May 3, 2000

Trying to quit smoking? Your best bet might be a smoke-free workplace, according to a new study by Berkeley researchers. They found smokers employed in locations with strong anti-smoking workplace ordinances were 8 percent more likely to quit over a six-month period than those in regions with no such laws.

Results of the new study will be published in this month's issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

"The benefits of workplace smoking ordinances for non-smokers are well known," said study co-author Joel Moskowitz, a director of Berkeley's Center for Family and Community Health in the School of Public Health. "This is the first time we've seen such a big benefit for smokers also."

Moskowitz and co-researchers Zihua Lin of Berkeley and Esther Hudes of UC San Francisco examined data from a statewide field survey sponsored by the California Department of Health Services. It was conducted in 1990, before California had a statewide workplace smoking law and when job sites still were governed by local legislation.

In communities with tough laws, 26.4 percent of smokers quit and remained non-smokers within six months of the survey. In communities with no workplace restrictions, only 19.1 percent of smokers quit, the team found.

The effects were greatest in regions with the strongest rules. Such rules included prohibiting smoking in restrooms, meeting rooms and hallways; allowing employees to designate their work area as smoke free; permitting nonsmokers' concerns to take precedence in a conflict; and not exempting any businesses with four or more employees.

Today, California's statewide law prohibits all indoor smoking at work sites. It is the strongest anti-smoking legislation in the nation.

Moskowitz said the new findings shed light on factors that influence smokers to quit. For instance, what he calls "the nuisance factor" associated with workplace restrictions -- having to seek an outdoor spot to smoke, and timing smoking around work breaks -- probably motivates some to give up the habit.

But perhaps even more important, he said, are the support of nonsmoking co-workers and the smoke-free air itself, which decreases biochemical and psychological cues to light up.

"Half of all cigarette smokers try to quit at least once every year," he said, "and it's a lot easier to be successful if you are not exposed to as much smoke."

A smoke-free environment helped all populations studied, Moskowitz said, and showed a positive effect regardless of race, gender or ethnicity in communities throughout the state.

Since smokers were only followed over a six-month period, many may have relapsed since, Moskowitz acknowledged. But if workplace ordinances could boost the "nonrecidivist rate" -- the rate of smokers who quit permanently -- from the current average of 4 percent a year to 5.5 percent or so, as preliminary estimates suggest, "it would mean several hundred thousand people nationwide who would successfully quit," he said.

According to the California Healthcare Institute, a biomedical policy group, 20 states restricted smoking to some extent in private work sites as of Dec. 31, 1998. Cigarette smoking is the leading preventable cause of death and disability in the United States, Moskowitz said. Each year, an estimated 420,000 smokers die from cigarette smoking, and 50,000 nonsmokers die from exposure to environmental tobacco smoke.



May 3 - 9, 2000 (Volume 28, Number 32)
Copyright 2000, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the
Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.
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