OBJECTIVES: To determine whether occupational exposure to raw tobacco causes respiratory or allergic diseases, an excess of respiratory symptoms, a decrease in lung function, or parenchymal changes in chest radiography among Finnish cigar workers. METHODS: This cross sectional study included all Finnish cigar workers (n = 106) exposed to raw tobacco and also a group of unexposed matched referents. Data were collected with a self administered questionnaire, flow volume spirometry, measurements of diffusing capacity of the lung for carbon monoxide, chest radiography and skin prick tests. A questionnaire was also sent to former workers of the factory. RESULTS: There were no significant differences between the groups in the prevalence of respiratory symptoms and chest radiography findings. Nine of 102 tobacco workers had pulmonary fibrosis of at least 1/0 (according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) 1980 classification) and the corresponding figure was five for the referents. The tobacco workers tended to have a low forced vital capacity (FVC), and they had impaired forced expiratory volume in 1 second and lower means of the maximal expiratory flow at 25% of the FVC significantly more often than the referents. Diffusing capacity tended to be lower among the referents. The referents more often had atopy and earlier atopic diseases than the exposed workers. These results indicate the possibility of selection among the exposed workers. CONCLUSIONS: No excess of prevalence of respiratory symptoms in the tobacco workers was found. According to the questionnaire episodes of allergic alveolitis may have occurred in the cigar factory workers. However, in the absence of impairments in lung function and radiological changes it was not possible to distinguish humidifier fever and allergic alveolitis. In exposure conditions that include humidification of the air humidifier, fever and allergic alveolitis constitute a risk for tobacco workers. No effects were shown of exposure to tobacco dust on lung function.
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