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Smokers' Blues

Blue-collar workers trying to quit get less support than white-collar employees

MONDAY, Feb. 4, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- Quittin' time is not always quittin' time when you're a blue-collar worker trying to kick a cigarette habit.

That's the conclusion of a new study that finds that while smoking rates are higher among blue-collar workers than white-collar workers, there's less peer or employer pressure on blue-collar employees to give up cigarettes.

"Factors like social support make a real difference in whether people will think about quitting," says study author Glorian Sorensen, director of the Center for Community-based Research at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

"These factors vary, particularly by occupation. Social influences to quit are less available for blue-collar workers," she says.

The study appears in the current issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion.

Previous studies have found that 37 percent of blue-collar men smoke and 33 percent of blue-collar women do. That compares to 21 percent of men and 20 percent of women in white-collar professions, reports Sorensen. According to the study, smoking rates are also dropping faster for white-collar workers than for blue-collar employees.

Nationally, almost 47 million adults still smoke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The American Lung Association reports that almost half a million Americans die every year from smoking-related diseases. Cigarettes are responsible for 87 percent of lung cancers and the majority of emphysema cases, says the lung association. In addition, health care and lost productivity from smoking costs almost $100 billion every year.

Sorensen and her colleagues interviewed 2,626 smokers from more than 40 companies in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Two-thirds of the participants were considered blue-collar employees, meaning they held jobs such as line or factory workers. The other third were considered white-collar workers. They held technical, clerical or managerial positions.

Most of the study subjects were white, and there were slightly more men (55 percent) than women. Almost 56 percent of the smokers were giving serious thought to quitting smoking.

While white-collar workers reported smoking was becoming less acceptable at work, that wasn't the case with blue-collar workers. Overall, blue-collar workers received less encouragement to quit and less support from their co-workers than white-collar workers, the study found.

"Part of what we're seeing is a reflection of the social norms in the environment," says Sorensen. "Smoking policies or the availability of quit-smoking programs may be less available for blue-collar workers."

Ron Todd, director of tobacco control for the American Cancer Society, agrees the work environment probably plays a role in efforts to quit smoking.

"Blue-collar workers may be less likely to have smoking banned in the workplace," he says.

However, that doesn't mean it's harder for a blue-collar worker to stop smoking.

Sorensen found that the number of smokers who were able to quit didn't vary enough between the two groups to be considered statistically significant.

The first step to quitting is preparation, Todd says.

Assess why you smoke and why you want to quit. Have a strong commitment to quitting, and confidence in your ability to succeed. Most importantly, don't beat yourself up if you slip up.

"Each quit attempt is a learning opportunity," explains Todd. "Most smokers try to quit four to seven times before they're successful."

What To Do: For more information on quitting smoking, go to the National Cancer Institute, or the American Lung Association.

SOURCES: Interviews with Glorian Sorensen, Ph.D., M.P.H., professor, health and social behavior, Harvard University School of Public Health, and director, Center for Community-based Research, Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Boston; Ron Todd, M.S., Ed., director, tobacco control, American Cancer Society, Atlanta; January 2002 American Journal of Health Promotion
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