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The results are presented of a Polish study conducted during 2000 by the National Centre for Workplace Health Promotion, The Nofer Institute of Occupational Medicine, involving 755 Polish companies and organisations which were mailed a questionnaire concerning their tobacco-free workplace policy.
According to the findings of the study, the most common tobacco control activity in the workplace is a smoking ban. In most (63.2%) of the companies smoking was banned throughout, except for designated smoking areas. In 20.7% of workplaces smoking was not allowed during official meetings or in other special circumstances or places. Only 13.8% of all organisations responding to the questionnaire applied a total ban on smoking. In contrast 2.3% of the firms had not introduced any ban. There was no relation between the size, ownership or economic situation of the company and its tobacco policy.
Among 737 of the organisations which had smoking bans, 41.3% instituted severe disciplinary measures on those employees who failed to comply with the ban, 41.7% instituted some disciplinary measures, 14% applied none, and 3% of the companies offered different solutions.
The most important issue for those companies where smoking is allowed in designated areas is the way smoking rooms have been adapted. Problems arise in regard to the wellbeing of non-smokers. For their sake, a designated smoking room has to be a separate, closed, and properly ventilated area so that the tobacco smoke is isolated. Unfortunately, only a quarter of companies provided smokers with such smoking rooms. Around 35% of the firms allowed smoking in designated areas, and 60% in places that are not isolated from the rest of the building (halls, social facilities or elsewhere). Thus, the employers' obligation to isolate tobacco smoke has not been fulfilled.
More than half of the companies imposed bans without consulting the staff in any way, a quarter instituted the bans after previously discussing the matter with employees' organisations, and in one fifth the staff were allowed to discuss the proposal before any decision was taken.
According to the survey there are several possible activities aimed at encouraging and supporting employees to quit. The most popular measures in Polish companies are presented in table 1.
According to research findings, all kinds of educational activities have proven to be very popular. The employers, however, would rather resort to disciplinary measures than more positive means of encouragement, such as prizes or financial bonuses. Large successful companies are more likely to provide their staff with counselling or group therapy; smaller private enterprises would rather punish those smokers who breach the smoking ban, while public organisations usually distribute educational literature and participate in popular quit campaigns. Some companies on the one hand introduce various bans and regulations, while on the other they neither support their employees nor provide them with proper designated smoking rooms, etc.
Smoking bans are not the sole solution to the problem. The economic losses that companies suffer as a result of absenteeism, smoking breaks, and lower productivity are still not fully recognised by managers. The problem arises when health professionals are requested to show hard evidence concerning cost effectiveness of such interventions, as little reliable and comprehensive research has been carried out in this area. Only when the stakeholders find health promotion programmes in general and tobacco control in particular to be beneficial will they approve them. For comprehensive programmes to be truly effective, smoking bans and regulations must be supported with counselling and other measures to help smokers adjust to their changed circumstances in the workplace.