Workplace smoking can be a serious safety and health hazard and a cause of conflict at work. Promotion and implementation of a smoke-free work environment therefore fall under the ILO’s mandate to create healthy and safe workplaces.
Historically, in the early 1900s, when smoking was banned at work it was done more to prevent fires and explosions rather than for health reasons. Later during the century, from 1950s to 1980s, bans on smoking at workplaces focused more on the protection of vulnerable workers, mostly in the healthcare and education sectors. Today, with the growing awareness of the danger of second-hand or environmental tobacco smoke, more and more workers are being protected by legislation and policies banning smoking at work.
The need for action is still great: Tobacco use kills 5.4 million people a year - an average of one person every six seconds - and accounts for one in 10 adult deaths worldwide, according to the WHO (World Health Organisation). Worryingly, the epidemic is shifting to the developing world. More than 80% of the world's smokers live in low- and middle-income countries.
More than half of countries worldwide, accounting for nearly two thirds of the population of the world and including many low- and middle-income countries, allow smoking in government offices, work spaces and other indoor settings. Smoke-free policies in the workplaces of several industrialized nations have reduced total tobacco consumption among employees by an average of 29%.
This shows that the development and implementation of strategies to promote smoke free workplaces and as well as assistance in the cessation of smoking can lead to a considerable reduction in avoidable deaths attributable to cigarette smoke.
As a considerable percentage of the population spend most of their time at work, the workplace can be used to inform and educate workers about the dangers of environmental tobacco smoke. According to the WHO, seven out of ten smokers want to quit and admit that a smoke-free workplace would provide a supportive environment for employees trying to quit.