Objectives: To screen for respiratory symptoms and lung function impairment in workers occupationally exposed to tobacco dust in a tobacco-processing plant.
Participants: One hundred twenty-one tobacco workers (97 women and 24 men) were included in the study. In addition, a group of 98 control workers (73 women and 25 men) were studied.
Methods: Acute and chronic respiratory symptoms were recorded in all tobacco workers. Lung function was measured by recording the maximum expiratory flow-volume curves on which FVC, FEV(1), and flow rates at 50% of FVC (FEF(50)) and the last 25% of FVC (FEF(25)) were read.
Results: There was a high prevalence of chronic respiratory symptoms among these workers, and this prevalence was significantly higher in exposed female workers than in female or male control workers (p < 0.01 and p < 0.05, respectively). Occupational asthma was recorded in 6 female tobacco workers (6.2%) and in none of the control subjects (p < 0.05). None of the male workers were found to have occupational asthma. There was also a high prevalence of acute symptoms that were noted during the work shift (particularly for nose and throat dryness, as well as eye irritation). Among these tobacco workers, the odds ratios for respiratory symptoms were frequently significant for employment and smoking among male tobacco workers but were not significant in general for female tobacco workers. The ventilatory capacity data in tobacco workers showed statistically significant reductions in FEV(1), FEF(50), and FEF(25) in relation to predicted values. These reductions were demonstrated in smokers as well as in nonsmokers. Regression analysis suggested that there were significant changes according to employment status for FVC, FEV(1), and FEF(25) in female tobacco workers. Measurements of ventilatory capacity during the course of the work shift in 38 female tobacco workers demonstrated significant mean acute reductions in FEV(1) (-5.7%), in FEF(50) (-15.7%), and in FEF(25) (-23.4%).
Conclusions: Our data indicate that tobacco workers may develop respiratory disorders related to tobacco dust in their work environment.