In an innovative effort to prevent cancer caused by tobacco and abetted by a lack of fruit and vegetables in the diet, a research study of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (DFCI) is circulating a Tools for Health magazine to selected Laborers and asking them to participate in a series of motivational interviews.

The project is the outgrowth of LIUNA’s long-standing collaboration with DFCI’s Center for Community-Based Research and the Organized Labor and Tobacco Control Network (OLTCN), which are affiliated with the Harvard School of Public Health. LIUNA General President Terence M. O’Sullivan serves on the OLTCN advisory board.

“It will not surprise Laborers,” says DFCI Project Director Ann Smith, “but roughly 40 percent of them smoke.” This compares to 23 percent among the general adult population.

Tobacco and Dietary Habits of Laborers

  • 39% smoke daily, with two-thirds smoking a pack or more per day.
  • 68% are thinking about quitting tobacco in the next six months.
  • 10% are using non-cigarette forms of tobacco.
  • 46% have attempted to quit smoking unsuccessfully in the past year.
  • 60% eat fruit less than once a day.
  • 65% eat vegetables less than once a day.

“Laborers, also, are well aware of the synergism between smoking and asbestos,” says LHSFNA Health Promotion Division Director Kitty Conlan. “We’ve been stressing the point for some time through our tobacco awareness program.

“What may be less well known to Laborers is the synergism between smoking and other workplace hazards such as silica and solvents,” warns Conlan.

The study supports efforts to quit with personalized, motivational counseling and free access to nicotine replacement therapy.

The study also encourages consumption of fruits and vegetables, both shown to be protective for some cancers, particularly colon cancer. Preliminary research reveals that LIUNA members, generally, have poor diets when it comes to these food groups.

Over the past couple of years the study has developed in two phases. First, about 1000 Laborers were interviewed to determine their particular habits with regard to tobacco and diet. Then, John Anatone, the Tri-Fund Field Coordinator for the New England region, arranged access for researchers to LIUNA worksites so they could observe actual Laborer smoking and food choice behaviors.

Combining the “qualitative research” of the second phase with the individual data from the first, DFCI researchers then prepared a Tools for Health magazine-with each copy tailored to the specific tobacco and diet behaviors of a single survey participant.

Those magazines were sent to the baseline survey participants, and follow-up calls began in December. Response has exceeded expectations.

“Lots of people want to quit tobacco, but it’s hard,” says Smith. “Studies show that only five percent who quit with the help of counseling or nicotine therapy remain so after a year. However, if counseling and therapy are combined, the one-year quit rate rises to 35 percent.

In six months, participants will be surveyed again, and the test group will be compared to those who received the calls and other interventions. Based on survey results, actual changes in behavior can be gauged.

Though the program is open only to those Laborers who were solicited in the initial survey, the LHSFNA has its own smoking cessation program that is available to all members. Research shows that the cessation aids provided in the program are cost-effective investments for health and welfare funds and effective assistance for members who want to quit. For more information, members should call Angela Brennan, LHSFNA Wellness Coordinator, at 202-628-5465.

[Steve Clark]