Exposure To Passive Smoking At Work Linked To Increased Adult Asthma

Exposure to environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) at work, mainly in the 1970s and 1980s, was associated with a 40% increased risk of developing asthma in young adults, according to new research presented today at The British Thoracic Society Annual Winter Meeting (Friday 4th December).

The major study, conducted at Imperial College, London in collaboration with other universities and occupational experts used information on the job history of over 10,000 people born in Britain in the first week of March 1958.

They examined the link between workplace exposure to a range of different agents including ETS, and the development of asthma between the ages of 16 and 33 (i.e. during the years 1974 to1991, well before the Smoke free Premises and Enforcement Regulations 2006).

The results showed that by age 33, over a third (38%) of the 1958 cohort had worked in a job in which exposure to agents known to cause asthma was likely.

About 1 in 20 (4.8%) reported they had developed asthma between 16 and 33 years.

Those working in jobs where exposure to environmental tobacco smoke was likely (for example waiters, bar workers) were 40% more likely to report the development of asthma than those unlikely to be exposed to ETS.

Professor Mike Morgan, Chairman of The British Thoracic Society and Respiratory Consultant says:

“This research highlights how important it was to ban smoking in workplaces across the UK. Sadly, a significant number of people who’ve developed asthma may have done so partly because of working in smoky work environments during the 70s and 80s.

But this is not the end of the story. Workplaces full of cigarette smoke in the UK may be a thing for the history books – but too many people are still exposed to other asthma causing chemicals at work. Employers must make sure they are informed about which chemicals cause asthma – and take appropriate action to minimise exposure and harm to staff.”

Dr Elaine Vickers, Research Relations Manager at Asthma UK, says:

“Shockingly, up to 3,000 people develop occupational asthma every year after being exposed to potentially harmful substances at work. This research demonstrates the extent to which people in a variety of professions are put at risk.

Every seven minutes someone in the UK is rushed to hospital with a life-threatening asthma attack, and the financial cost to employers is also substantial, with almost 13 million working days lost to asthma each year.

Occupational asthma is completely preventable, unlike other types of asthma, so it is vital that all employers take asthma seriously to protect their staff as well their business.

Source: British Thoracic Society

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