Smoking can cause or worsen many other problems.

  • Emphysema
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Pneumonia
  • Severe asthma
  • Angina
  • Heart attack
  • Aneurysm
  • Stroke
  • Mini-stroke
  • High blood pressure
  • Stomach ulcer
  • Impaired immunity
  • Osteoporosis
  • Diabetes
  • Skin wrinkles
  • Fertility problems
  • Pregnancy risks
  • Impotence
  • Middle ear infections
  • Cataracts
  • Gum disease
  • Crohn’s disease

It’s a lot harder to prevent lung damage from smoking than from silica or asbestos.

You can use respirators for silica or asbestos, but tobacco smoke goes straight into the lungs.

If you smoke – and 45 percent of Laborers do – your only protection is quitting, but that’s not easy because tobacco use is an addiction.

As any smoker can tell you, an addictive habit is hard to break because your body suffers when denied its fix. It screams for relief and begs you to light up again. It takes a strong will to resist.

Despite the odds, however, each year many people do quit. Their motivation comes from many sources. The pleas of their children work for some. Others realize the bad example their habit sets for their kids. Money is a factor – the cost of cigarettes keeps going up. Some people find strength just in knowing that by quitting they’re avoiding a host of potential health problems; others get strong when they are afflicted with the first signs of serious illness.

Though nothing can replace personal resolve, help is available. A variety of nicotine replacement therapies can help individuals stop smoking (or chewing – tobacco is cancer-causing in either format), but the addiction to nicotine remains. Until the addiction is broken, the risk of a return to tobacco use is high.

Former smokers live longer than continuing smokers. For example, persons who quit smoking before age 50 have one-half the risk of dying in the next 15 years compared with continuing smokers (American Cancer Society).

The Great American Smokeout began in the 1970s as a way to encourage smokers to get started on quitting. It provides support by enlisting millions of American smokers to quit together for 24 hours. After that, it’s up to each individual to keep up the good work. Through its website, the American Cancer Society, the sponsor of the Smokeout, offers a variety of information that can help. In Canada, the Canadian Cancer Society also offers help to those who want to quit.

While tobacco use plagues human societies all over the world, it is a particular problem in the US and Canada. In the US, approximately 23 percent of adults smoke. In Canada, it’s 22 percent. Each year, in the US, 440,000 people die from tobacco use, nearly one out of every five deaths. In Canada, with just under a tenth of the US population, about 47,000 deaths are due to tobacco.

Adult Smoking Rates by Ethnicity (US)

African Americans 22.3%
American Indians 33.7%
Asian Americans 12.4%
Hispanics 16.7%
Whites 24.0%

The rate of smoking among Laborers is about twice the US national average. Many Laborers are shortening their lives and their retirement benefits. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that, on average, male smokers lose 13.2 years of life compared to non-smokers. Among women, the average loss is 14.5 years.

The good news is that quitting produces immediate, positive results. According to the US Surgeon General:

  • 20 minutes after quitting: your blood pressure drops to a level close to that before the last cigarette. The temperature of your hands and feet increases to normal.
  • 8 hours after quitting: the carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal.
  • 24 hours after quitting: your chance of a heart attack decreases.
  • 2 weeks to 3 months after quitting: your circulation improves and your lung function increases up to 30 percent.
  • 1 to 9 months after quitting: coughing, sinus congestion, fatigue and shortness of breath decrease; cilia (tiny hair-like structures that move mucus out of the lungs) regain normal function, increasing the ability to handle mucus, clean the lungs and reduce infection.
  • 1 year after quitting: the excess risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a smoker’s.
  • 5 to 15 years after quitting: your stroke risk is reduced to that of a non-smoker.
  • 10 years after quitting: the lung cancer death rate is about half that of continuing smokers; the risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, bladder, kidney and pancreas decreases.
  • 15 years after quitting: the risk of coronary heart disease is that of a nonsmoker.

This potential for steady improvement in health is one reason that LIUNA General President Terence M. O’Sullivan has taken so much initiative to get the union involved in anti-smoking programs. “I want every Laborer to enjoy a productive, healthy life,” says O’Sullivan. “By quitting, those that smoke are bettering their lives and setting a good, constructive example for their kids.”

They are also saving money for themselves and their health and welfare fund. Smoking causes a wide variety of illness, much of which is preventable. The high cost of treating these illnesses is a significant factor in the escalating cost of health care.

More information about tobacco and how to quit is available from the LHSFNA. Contact the Health Promotion Division at

[Steve Clark]