Workplace Exposures Shape Smoking Rates in Building Trades

Photo: Building trade workers on a break.
“Smoking breaks may be one of the ways these workers can escape - or have a temporary relief from physically or mentally demanding work,” notes Dal Lae Chin

Approximately forty percent of blue collar workers smoke, more than double the rate of the U.S. adult working population.1,2 Individual risk factors such as age, income, and education account for part of the disparity. Yet new research from Dal Lae Chin, a postdoctoral scholar in the Occupational and Environmental Health Nursing Program at the UCSF School of Nursing, contributes to our understanding of how environmental risk factors may contribute to the deadly addiction.

The study, published in the May 2012 issue of American Journal of Industrial Medicine, found smoking was significantly associated with occupational risk factors including exposure to dust and chemicals. Notably, participants in the study who were concerned about their exposure to occupational hazards smoked less than their peers.

“I’m really concerned about the significant relationship between exposure factors and smoking,” says Chin. “The combination of exposures may increase the risk of health problems for at-risk populations and contribute to health disparities.”

The study also discovered a link between the strength of a worker’s relationship with their union and current smoking. “Union commitment was statistically significant in our multivariable model,” says Chin. “Workers may feel a sense of belonging by smoking with a cooperative group.” The finding points to the importance of union involvement in smoking cessation efforts and promotion of smoke-free workplaces.

The study, which is based on Chin’s dissertation research, analyzed baseline survey results from 1,817 building trade apprentices who participated in MassBUILT, a trial smoking cessation intervention, from 2004 to 2007. The participants apprenticed in one of seven skilled trades. They ranged from bricklayers and plumbers, to painters and electricians. All belonged to building trade unions at 10 union sites located in Massachusetts.

Chin’s findings underscore that smoking cessation programs for building trade workers should consider work-related occupational factors, not just individual level interventions, to ensure progress against the single largest preventable cause of disease in the United Sates, which accounts for approximately 440,000 deaths each year.3 One example of such an integrated approach is the pioneering work done by the California State Building and Construction Trades Council in collaboration with LOHP:

Photo: The UCSF School of Nursing Honored Dal Lae Chin with the 2012 Barbara Resnik Writing Award
The UCSF School of Nursing Honored Dal Lae Chin with the 2012 Barbara Resnik Writing Award.

Co-authors of the study include OiSaeng Hong, director of the Occupational and Environmental Health Nursing Program at UCSF, Marion Gillen, former deputy director of COEH, Michael Bates, adjunct professor in the Division of Environmental Health Sciences at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health, along with Cassandra Okechukwu, an assistant professor from the Harvard School of Public Health.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health funded the original intervention study. In addition, the American Nursing Foundation, the Alpha Eta Chapter of Sigma Theta Tau International, the Graduate Division of UCSF, and the School of Nursing Century Club at UCSF supported this study.

1Chin DL, Hong O, Gillen M, Bates MN, Okechukwu CA. Cigarette smoking in building trades workers: the impact of work environment. Am J Ind Med. 2012 May;55(5):429-39.
2Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Current cigarette smoking prevalence among working adults--United States, 2004-2010. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2011 Sep 30;60(38):1305-9.
3Office of the Surgeon General. Executive Summary: The Health Consequences of Smoking. Rockville, MD: 2004.

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