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Smokers much more likely to quit if workplace smoke-free, UC Berkeley study finds
01 May 2000

By Kathleen Scalise , Media Relations

Berkeley -- Trying to quit smoking? Your best bet might be a smoke-free workplace, according to a new study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley. They found smokers employed in locations with strong anti-smoking workplace ordinances were 38 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 the May 2000 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 UC 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 UC 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 UC Berkeley 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 make a great deal of sense from the standpoint of what influences smokers to quit. For instance, what he calls "the nuisance factor" associated with workplace restrictions - having to seek an outdoor spot to smoke, timing smoking around work breaks and so forth - probably motivates smokers to stop. But he said perhaps even more important are two other factors: the support of nonsmoking co-workers and the smoke-free air itself, which decreases the biochemical and psychological cues to light up in the first place.

"You can pretty much avoid the smoke if all venues you are living in on a daily basis are mandated to be smoke-free," he said. "Half of all cigarette smokers try to quit at least once every year, 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 in the study 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.

Mandatory workplace ordinances have been controversial nationwide, Moskowitz said. Some employers are concerned about increased compliance and enforcement burdens. Others believe that a positive effect on the bottom line health of workers has not been proven sufficiently. But California's experience suggests otherwise.

Moskowitz said the new results are quite promising for employers and show for the first time that government intervention can help both the nonsmoker and the smoker.

"This is telling us to adopt smoke-free laws," he said.

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.

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.


Note: For further information, contact Joel Moskowitz at (510) 643-7314. Reporters who wish to receive a copy of the journal paper should send email to Others should contact the journal offices at (202) 777-2435.


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