Secondhand Smoke

Railroad workers who have never smoked a day in their life are at an increased risk of cancer and other diseases. Why is that? Because countless railroad workers endured decades of needless exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke. 

Does Secondhand Smoke Cause Cancer? 

Yes. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies secondhand tobacco smoke (also known as environmental tobacco smoke) as a Group 1 carcinogen. Group 1 carcinogens are toxins that are known to cause cancer. Examples of other group 1 carcinogens include asbestos, benzene, and plutonium. 

hand holding a lit cigarette

What Cancers are Caused by Secondhand Smoke Exposure? 

Secondhand tobacco smoke is known to cause lung cancer and it is strongly linked with numerous other cancers such as cancers of the throat and bladder. Secondhand smoke exposure is also known to cause pulmonary conditions such as COPD. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with one of the following you may be eligible for compensation. 

How Much Secondhand Smoke is Dangerous? 

There is no safe level of secondhand smoke exposure. Secondhand smoke contains hundreds of chemicals that are known to be toxic or carcinogenic such as aromatic amines, arsenic, benzene, cadmium, chromium, formaldehyde, hydrogen cyanide, radioactive polonium-210, and vinyl chloride. [1] Even a brief exposure to secondhand smoke can increase the risk of heart attacks and cause permanent damage to the body’s cells in a way that sets the cancer process in motion. [2] Secondhand smoke causes approximately 7,330 deaths from lung cancer and 33,950 deaths from heart disease each year in the United States. [3] 

How Often Were Railroad Workers Exposed to Secondhand Smoke? 

It is typical for individuals who worked in the railroad industry in the 70s, 80s, and 90s to have endured chronic exposure to secondhand smoke. Smoking was historically very pervasive in the railroad industry. Some of our clients have estimated that in the 1970s and 1980s, upwards of 75% of the railroad workforce smoked cigarettes. 

Which Railroad Workers Suffered the Worst Exposures? 

Many of the most severe exposures were suffered by railroad employees working in enclosed spaces. Such exposures were common for locomotive engineers, firemen, brakemen, and conductors working in cramped cabs and cabooses. As one former railroad worker recalled, “if you were on an engine with an engineer, a fireman and a brakeman and a conductor, sometimes there would be four of you up there, guaranteed three of them were smoking” as a result, conditions inside the cabs were “like a poker game.” 

When was Secondhand Smoke Known to be Dangerous? 

Secondhand smoke was known to be dangerous in the early 1970s. The Surgeon General proposed a federal ban on smoking in public places as early as 1971. The evidence that secondhand smoke exposure caused cancer was irrefutable by the early 1980s. 

When did the Railroads Implement Smoking Bans? 

The railroads began to implement smoking bans in the late 1990s. However, many railroads did not entirely ban smoking until 2004-2005 and even today, such policies are not always adequately enforced. 

Why Were the Railroads so Slow to Enact Smoking Bans? 

The railroads often argue that they were not aware of the dangers of secondhand smoke. However, this has been repeatedly disproved by internal railroad documents produced during litigation. Norfolk Southern, for example, banned smoking on its corporate jets long before it banned smoking in its locomotives and facilities (i.e. NS safeguarded its executives before its union workers). 

In some cases, the delay in banning smoking was the result of a choice to prioritize profit over the health of employees. Amtrak is perhaps the most notorious example. Following the ban on smoking in airplanes, Amtrak realized it was attracting more smokers. As such, Amtrak refused to ban smoking on its trains until 2004 even though it had air monitoring evidence since at least 1992 that showed its workers were being exposed to dangerous levels of cigarette smoke. 

What can I do if I was Exposed to Secondhand Smoke? 

If you or a loved one was exposed to secondhand tobacco smoke and have been diagnosed with a related disease, the attorneys at Hughes Law Offices may be able to help. These are complicated cases that require experienced attorneys. While you and your loved ones focus on recovery, let us do the work needed to prove your case. Contact Hughes Law Offices today at 312-877-5588 for a free attorney consultation.

lit cigarette burning with a black background

Secondhand Tobacco Smoke Verdicts & Settlements 

Confidential settlement (Illinois, 2019)

Hughes Law Offices represented an on board services Amtrak employee who was a never smoker and yet was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer.  Amtrak disclosed documents showing that it knowingly exposed on board personnel to cancer-causing secondhand smoke for more than a decade after domestic airlines banned smoking.  The reason?  Profits.  For most of the 1990’s, Amtrak chose to put their workforce at risk for cancer in exchange for obtaining fares from travelers who smoked. Our client also reported to work at Chicago’s Union Station, a location that was notorious for asbestos and diesel exhaust problems.

Confidential settlement (Illinois, 2020)

Hughes Law Offices represented a locomotive conductor who worked for Union Pacific Railroad (UP) and its predecessor Chicago and North Western Transportation Company (CNW). Our client worked for CNW and UP from 1973 to 2015. A couple years after retiring, he was diagnosed with colon cancer. We filed a lawsuit in the Circuit Court of Cook County alleging that long-term exposures to secondhand tobacco smoke, asbestos, and diesel exhaust caused the colon cancer. During discovery, UP turned over a bid that it received for $678,000 to remove 24,000 square feet of asbestos-containing wall and ceiling panels from the Proviso Yard Diesel Ramp in Illinois, where our client reported for work. That bid was received in 2013. Our client was a non-smoker with no risk factors for colon cancer. Unfortunately, after he provided his trial testimony, our client passed away as a result of the cancer.

Confidential settlement (California 2022)

Hughes Law Offices represented a locomotive engineer who worked for Union Pacific Railroad (UP) for over 36 years.  Within two years of his retirement, and despite having never smoked cigarettes, our client was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer.  He was 62 years old at the time of this diagnosis. Our client reported near daily exposures to secondhand smoke, especially early in his career. These exposures were worsened by the railroad’s failure to enact a smoking ban and even after a smoking policy was developed, the railroad did not enforce it. Our client was also exposed to diesel exhaust via poorly sealed locomotives and via outdated practices like running locomotives long-hood forward, under-powering trains and requiring crews to deadhead in trailing units. Our client also described exposures to asbestos and silica. All told, he had regular exposures to four known lung carcinogens.  

$4,255,000 verdict (Tennessee, 2014)

The Decedent worked as a mechanic in Illinois Central’s Trigg Avenue and Johnston Yard maintenance shops in Tennessee from 1974 to 2007. He died of squamous cell oropharyngeal (throat) cancer in 2008. The Decedent’s wife brought suit against Illinois Central alleging that the Decedent’s exposure to secondhand smoke, diesel exhaust, and asbestos while working for Illinois Central was the cause of his cancer. The Jury award was reduced to offset the bills paid by the Decedent’s health insurance plan resulting in a net award of $3,335,685. (Russell v. Illinois Central Railroad Company). 

Hughes Law Offices is providing case histories to inform visitors about actual case fact patterns and rulings in your area. Unless specifically noted, the cases summarized herein were not handled by attorneys at Hughes Law Offices.




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