For 30 years, California has led the crusade against Big Tobacco. The state blazed trails in tobacco control with bold media campaigns, smoke-free air laws, and tobacco taxes to fund public health. In 1994, when California passed its smoke-free workplace law, it became the first state to change its Labor Code to reflect the growing recognition that smoking in the workplace exposes people to toxic secondhand smoke. To protect workers, California amended its Labor Code to prohibit smoking in enclosed places of employment.
But the law didn’t cover all workplaces. The smoke-free workplace law left gaping holes in the Labor Code, and permitted smoking in hotels, cabs of trucks, warehouses, small businesses, long-term health care facilities, and outdoor places of employment. These holes have left many workers – hotel maids, truck drivers, nannies, orderlies, and construction workers – unprotected. The exemptions still exist today, even though more than 25 states and the District of Columbia have since adopted more comprehensive smoke-free laws.
Unfortunately, the law’s shortcomings disproportionately affect populations too often hurt by flawed and unfair policies. Many people from low-income communities and communities of color work in industries that are not protected under the law. Because the places where they work are not smoke-free, these groups are regularly exposed to secondhand smoke and residual toxins on surfaces (also known as thirdhand smoke) in hotel rooms, trucks, and even their employers’ homes.