SCMP Wednesday, May 16, 2001


Revealed: restaurant workers' level of risk

MARY ANN BENITEZ and FELIX CHAN

Non-smoking restaurant workers have 5-1/2 times more nicotine in their bloodstream than non-smokers in smoke-free workplaces, increasing their risk of dying from lung cancer and heart disease, according to a ground-breaking study.
Based on the results, researchers estimated one in 33 catering workers - about 150 a year - would die from heart disease and lung cancer because of passive smoking in Hong Kong.
The findings prompted calls yesterday for the Government to protect workers' health by immediately banning smoking in the workplace.
"There should be no exceptions, exemptions, trade-offs or unnecessary delays in implementing smoke-free policies in the workplace," said Professor Anthony Hedley, chairman of the Council on Smoking and Health. "The principle must be that no worker should have to work in air contaminated by tobacco smoke in order to hold a job."
The council carried out the study with the University of Hong Kong, Chinese University and US-based Repace Associates. Researchers measured the amount of cotinine - a breakdown product - created when the body processes nicotine, in the urine of 170 non-smoking workers and 14 smokers. These were compared with 16 non-smokers working in smoke-free areas. On average, catering workers have 5.5 times the level of cotinine compared to the low-risk group.
James Repace, a health physicist, said: "We estimate that the average catering worker who is only exposed to second-hand smoke at work has a three per cent combined excess risk for heart disease and lung cancer due to passive smoking over a 40-year working lifetime." This meant that among the 200,000 local catering workers, 6,000 would die, 3,840 of them non-smokers, he said.
Second-hand smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals, of which 60 are suspected or known cancer-causing agents.
The Eating Establishment Employees General Union said most catering workers would not be bothered about health problems. The Catering and Hotels Industries Employees General Union feared a complete ban would put workers in a difficult position.