by Candice Y. Johnson, Ph.D.

There is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke, and avoiding this preventable health hazard is particularly important for the health of pregnant women and their unborn babies. Secondhand smoke exposure is associated with chronic diseases such as lung cancer, coronary heart disease, and stroke and with adverse reproductive effects, including low birth weight, when mothers are exposed during pregnancy. However, some women cannot avoid secondhand smoke during pregnancy because many workplaces still allow smoking. Although a lot of progress has been made in making U.S. workplaces smoke-free, only 26 U.S. states and the District of Columbia have laws requiring all private workplaces, restaurants, and bars to be smoke-free. In the other 24 states, pregnant women may be unable to avoid secondhand smoke if smoking is allowed in their workplace.

NIOSH researchers wanted to know how big the problem might be, how many women of reproductive age are exposed, and what types of workers are the most likely to be exposed to secondhand smoke at work. To answer these questions, we used data from the 2010 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), a survey of the health of the American people that includes questions about work. We looked at the demographic and workplace characteristics of women of reproductive age to see which nonsmoking women were most likely to be exposed to secondhand smoke at work.

We estimated that about 1 in 10 nonsmoking, working women of reproductive age in the United States are exposed to secondhand smoke at work. Women working in the accommodations and food services industry (women working in hotels, restaurants, or bars) were more than twice as likely as women employed in other industries to be exposed to secondhand smoke at work. Many states’ smoke-free laws don’t cover hotels, restaurants, bars, or patios, leaving these women unprotected.

We also found that black women were twice as likely to be exposed to secondhand smoke at work during pregnancy as white women. Women with fewer...Click here to read the rest of the blog post.