Environmental Tobacco Smoke in Occupational Settings: Effect and Susceptibility Biomarkers in Workers From Lisbon Restaurants and Bars

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Environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) has been recognized as a major health hazard by environmental and public health authorities worldwide. In Portugal, smoke-free laws are in force for some years, banning smoking in most indoor public spaces. However, in hospitality venues such as restaurants and bars, owners can still choose between a total smoke-free policy or a partial smoking restriction with designated smoking areas, if adequate reinforced ventilation systems are implemented. Despite that, a previous study showed that workers remained continuously exposed to higher ETS pollution in Lisbon restaurants and bars where smoking was still allowed, comparatively to total smoke-free venues. This was assessed by measurements of indoor PM2.5 and urinary cotinine, a biomarkers of tobacco smoke exposure, demonstrating that partial smoking restrictions do not effectively protect workers from ETS. The aim of the present work was to characterize effect and susceptibility biomarkers in non-smokers from those hospitality venues occupationally exposed to ETS comparatively to non-exposed ones. A group of smokers was also included for comparison. The sister chromatid exchange (SCE), micronucleus (MN) and comet assays in whole peripheral blood lymphocytes (PBLs) and the micronucleus assay in exfoliated buccal cells, were used as biomarkers of genotoxicity. Furthermore, a comet assay after ex vivo challenge of leukocytes with an alkylating agent, ethyl methanesulfonate (EMS), was used to analyze the repair capacity of those cells. Genetic polymorphisms in genes associated with metabolism and DNA repair were also included. The results showed no clear association between occupational exposure to ETS and the induction of genotoxicity. Interestingly, the leukocytes from non-smoking ETS-exposed individuals displayed lower DNA damage levels in response to the ex vivo EMS challenge, in comparison to those from non-exposed workers, suggesting a possible adaptive response. The contribution of individual susceptibility to the effect biomarkers studied was unclear, deserving further investigation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number674142
JournalFrontiers in public health
Publication statusPublished - 4 Jun 2021


  • challenge assay
  • genotoxicity
  • human biomonitoring
  • occupational exposure
  • second-hand smoke


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