Tobacco/Cigarette Smoke


Tobacco smoke from people smoking cigarettes, cigars, or pipes has been regulated by WISHA since 1994. Also known as "environmental tobacco smoke" or "second hand tobacco smoke," this mixture of thousands of substances is a known health hazard. The WISHA Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS) regulation, WAC 296-800-240 (2.83 MB PDF) prohibits smoking in workplace offices, except in specially ventilated areas. Since the adoption of this regulation, most employers have banned smoking in their offices and office buildings. However, WISHA continues to receive inquiries about the ETS regulation and how it applies to particular work settings or conditions. The question and answer section below addresses the more common questions we receive about ETS and where to go for further information.

Regulatory information

Questions and answers

What does the rule on environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) require?

WAC 296-800-240 (2.83 MB PDF) affects offices only. For these areas, employers with one or more office employees are required to protect these employees from the hazards of exposure to ETS, commonly referred to as secondhand smoke, by:

  • Eliminating indoor smoking entirely, or

  • Establishing a designated smoking room that is specially engineered to prevent ETS exposure to those outside the designated room.

These protections also extend to areas such as a company lunch room or meeting rooms that are associated with office areas. Enforcement of this regulation began in 1994 and affects public and private office worksites in Washington state. See regulatory information.

What is ETS?

Environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) is a mixture of smoke emitted from burning tobacco products and smoke exhaled by the smoker. ETS is also commonly referred to as secondhand smoke. Exposure to ETS is often referred to as passive smoking or involuntary smoking. ETS is a complex chemical mixture, made up of thousands of different substances.

Are all worksites with offices required to comply with the new regulations, no exceptions?

The definition of an office worksite under the new rule is quite broad. It includes any indoor or enclosed occupied space where activities such as clerical, administration or business are transacted. All worksites with offices that fall within the jurisdiction of the Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act (WISHA) are required to comply. This includes a large number of office worksites in the state. There are some worksites where WISHA has no jurisdiction because no employees are present or the federal government has jurisdiction rather than the state.

Do employers of office workers have to create designated smoking rooms?

No. Employers may choose to eliminate smoking in offices by requiring any smoking to occur outside. Because a properly engineered designated smoking room requires dedicated space, equipment and construction costs, as well as maintenance costs, most employers have chosen to not allow smoking indoors. The responsibility for establishing and maintaining a designated smoking room under the regulation lies with the employer, not a building owner.

Why is ETS considered a health hazard?

Studies over the last 15 years have documented significant adverse health consequences of ETS exposure. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classified ETS as a Group A carcinogen - a substance known to cause cancer in humans. The U.S. Surgeon General, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and others have joined the EPA in drawing this conclusion. Of the 16 pollutants that have been identified by EPA as Group A carcinogens (including asbestos, radon, and benzene) only EPS has been shown in studies to cause cancer at typical environmental levels. Get more information on ETS from the EPA (

Will penalties be assessed if an employer does not comply?

Enforcement of this rule will result from employee complaints or referrals to L&I from other agencies or programs. Upon receipt of the first complaint or referral, a letter will be sent to the employer outlining the ETS rule and necessary corrective action. A second complaint could result in penalties between $50-$200, depending on the size of the employer. In situations where an intentional or reckless violation of the rule can be documented or the same violations are repeated the penalties could be significantly higher.

How will the rules be enforced?

Inspections will typically result from confidential employee complaints. Under WISHA all employees and employee representatives who believe that an unsafe or unhealthy condition exists in their workplace have the right to request an inspection by L&I. The names of those filing complaints will be kept confidential upon request of the employee. Employees may not be fired or discriminated against for filing safety and health complaints or for exercising any of their rights under WISHA. Employees who believe they have been discriminated against may file a complaint with the department within 30 days of the alleged discrimination. To request an inspection or for additional information, employees may call the Labor & Industries office nearest them, or call the safety and health toll-free information number: 1-800-423-7233. Get more information on worker rights.

Why aren't other types of workers provided the same protection from ETS?

This rule is limited to offices because it was adopted out of a much broader proposal that addressed specific indoor air quality hazards of office work environments. The department cannot expand the scope of the regulation to other work environments unless a new proposal is developed and a mandated public process is followed, including an opportunity for all those affected to make formal comment.

Is Washington State alone in its new regulations to protect employees from ETS?

Although Washington is one of the first states to require widespread smoking controls, many states, counties, and cities in the United States have enacted controls through legislation or other means that eliminate or reduce exposure of employees and/or public to ETS.

Are volunteers in offices covered by the new rule?

The definition of an employee under WISHA includes any person who provides services for and is under the supervision of an employer for a specified salary, wage, stipend, or other benefit. Many volunteers would be considered "employees" under this interpretation. Therefore, the employer would need to comply with the rules.

What other smoking regulations are currently in effect in Washington?

  • Washington Clean Indoor Air Act of 1985 prohibiting smoking in public places except in designated smoking areas. This act also prohibits smoking in a number of public places including the public areas of retail stores, buses, elevators, and the lobbies of financial institutions, to name a few.
  • 1989 Governor's Executive Order prohibiting smoking in state facilities and buildings and state vehicles.
  • Regulations prohibiting smoking in all licensed daycare centers and private daycare homes, in vehicles used by the daycare while transporting children and prohibiting the use of tobacco products on school property (K-12).

In addition to these statewide regulations, some local jurisdictions have adopted regulations that prohibit or restrict smoking in certain areas.

How will this regulation be applied to buildings that have mixed uses, such as a single building with both offices and production areas?

Because the new rule is limited to office worksites, it only applies to the office areas in this situation. No smoking can occur in these areas unless a specifically engineered designated smoking room is provided for the smokers to use. Company cafeterias, lunchrooms, or meeting rooms that are directly associated with the office areas also would be covered. Production areas (or other non-office areas) within the building are outside the scope of the regulation. In non-office areas smoking is allowed unless there is a fire hazard or it would contribute to the toxic ingestion of chemicals, and if allowed by the employer. In buildings where the office(s) is not physically separated from the non-office areas by walls, employers would still need to apply the new regulations in the office area.

Is smoking around entrances and exits to buildings prohibited? What distance is considered a "close proximity" to openings allowing airflow directly into an office?

The regulation includes a section which prohibits direct ETS contamination of indoor office work environments from smoking areas located outside the building. Typical problem situations include:

  • An outside smoking area adjacent to an outside air intake, and ETS is drawn directly back into an office area.

  • A smoking area around entrances and exits to an office, but the airflow patterns around these areas allow ETS to be drawn directly back into the office.

If the problem is noted from direct ETS infiltration around an air intake or entryway, moving the smoking area further away should help in most cases to prevent the situation from reoccurring.

Can an air cleaner substitute for the separate ventilation of a designated smoking room?

No. Under the new regulation an air cleaner cannot substitute for direct exhaust of the designated smoking room air to the outside. However, air cleaners can be used in addition to direct outside exhaust for the designated smoking room if the employer chooses.

Can smoking be allowed in an attached parking garage?

Yes, assuming the parking garage is not an office area for any employees, or a direct part of the office area, and smoking is not prohibited for other reasons.  The new regulation addresses only office worksites.

If an employer has a (smoking-allowed) lunchroom in a production area but employees that work in offices use or occasionally use it, would the ETS regulation apply?

No. The new regulation applies to office work environments only. Only company lunchrooms that are directly associated with offices would be affected.

Can an employer be issued a citation if a customer comes into an office and smokes?

Ordinarily this should be handled by simply informing the customer that smoking is not allowed in the office or is confined to a designated smoking room. In cases where an employer does not inform and require the customer to follow the policy in effect, a citation could be issued on the basis that office employees were allowed to be exposed to the known hazard of exposure to ETS at the worksite.

Are intermittently used quality control offices at industrial sites covered by the rule?

Yes. As long as employees have regularly assigned office work in this area. If an area is just a transitory recording station, in most cases it would not be considered an office worksite.

Can a private office be separately ventilated and become a designated smoking room for an individual or small number of individuals?

The new rule doesn't explicitly eliminate this possibility, though it could be relatively expensive to create a designated smoking room for a single individual or a few individuals, and difficult in many cases to work productively because no employee in the office can be required to enter a designated smoking room to interact, pick up work, etc.

Why aren't employers required to have Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) on tobacco products?

Although employers are required to maintain MSDSs for hazardous materials under the Hazard Communication Standard (WAC 296-62-054), tobacco products are specifically exempt.

Who can an employer call about application of the ETS rule?

Employers can contact safety and health consultants in the Department of Labor & Industries' Regional Office nearest them if they have questions about the new rule. 


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