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Establishment of Smoke-Free Offices Worldwide --- U.S. Peace Corps

The Peace Corps (PC) of the United States is a government-sponsored international development agency with more than 6000 volunteers in approximately 70 developing countries. Since July 1988, PC headquarters in the District of Columbia has been a smoke-free workplace. From February through March 1991, all overseas PC full-time staff members were surveyed regarding cigarette smoking and attitudes toward a proposed smoke-free policy (complete ban) for PC offices worldwide. In addition, the directors of all overseas offices were surveyed regarding existing restrictions on smoking in the workplace. This report summarizes results of the survey.

During the survey, the PC employed more than 860 full-time staff members (approximately 75% were host-country nationals) in 58 overseas offices that provide field support to PC volunteers. Of these, 644 (75%) full-time staff members from 52 (90%) offices responded to the survey on employee attitudes. Approximately 21%, 21%, and 58% of staff members were current, former, or never smokers, respectively. Overall, 80% of staff members supported a smoke-free policy in the workplace, including 67% of current smokers, 89% of former smokers, and 82% of never smokers. Eighty-seven percent agreed that smoking should be banned in areas where nonsmokers must work. In each office, at least 50% of staff members supported a smoke-free workplace, including 86% of U.S. staff members and 79% of host-country national staff members.

Of the 51 offices that provided information about existing workplace smoking policies, 35 (69%) restricted smoking in the workplace. Most policies prohibited smoking in common areas, such as conference rooms, but allowed smoking in individual offices. Twelve (24%) offices had smoke-free policies. During 1990, 30% of PC office directors had received complaints from staff members regarding exposure to cigarette smoke in the workplace.

Because of the adverse health effects of involuntary exposure to cigarette smoke and the strong support for a smoke-free workplace policy among PC staff members, all overseas PC offices will be smoke-free effective September 1, 1991. Reported by: PD Coverdell, JK Olsen, Office of the Director, TH van der Vlugt, Office of Medical Svcs, Peace Corps, Washington, DC. International Health Program Office; Office on Smoking and Health, Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, CDC.

Editorial Note

Editorial Note:

The PC will be the first federal agency to provide a smoke-free environment for its employees worldwide. In 1986, the General Services Administration published guidelines for federal agencies to follow in establishing their own smoking regulations to protect nonsmoking workers from involuntary exposure to environmental tobacco smoke at federal worksites (1). These guidelines specified that smoking be minimized in areas with nonsmokers and that agency heads consider the opinions of employees in determining smoking policy. Other federal agencies with overseas facilities that have restricted (but not banned) smoking in the workplace include the Department of Defense (2) and the Department of State (Office of Medical Services, unpublished data).

For developing countries, information is limited regarding the prevalence of restrictions and the attitudes of workers about restrictions on smoking in the workplace (3). However, in both industrialized and developing countries, the trend is increasing toward regulation of smoking in public places and workplaces (4). In the PC survey, the high rate of support for a smoke-free workplace policy among host-country national staff members may not be representative of attitudes in the general populations; this level of support is likely to reflect higher levels of education among those staff members, as well as the influence of U.S. staff members.

The World Health Organization estimates that, during the 1990s, approximately 3 million persons will die each year as a direct result of smoking-related illnesses, and about one third of these deaths will occur in developing countries (5). These estimates underscore the need to prevent cigarette smoking and involuntary exposure to cigarette smoke in both industrialized and developing countries.

References

  1. General Services Administration. Smoking regulations: final rule. Federal Register 1986;51 (no. 235):44258--9. (41 CFR Part 101-20).

  2. CDC. Reducing the health consequences of smoking: 25 years of progress---a report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta: US Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, CDC, 1989; DHHS publication no. (CDC)89-8411.

  3. Chapman S, Leng WW. Tobacco control in the third world: a resource atlas. Penang, Malaysia: International Organization of Consumers Unions, 1990.

  4. Roemer R. Recent developments in legislation to combat the world smoking epidemic. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization, Division of Noncommunicable Diseases, Smoking and Health Programme, 1986.

  5. World Health Organization. Tobacco alert: WHO Programme on Tobacco or Health. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization, 1991.



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