Indulging a cigarette habit is more of a challenge these days as increasing numbers of states and provinces impose smoking restrictions in public places, worksites, restaurants and bars.

LIUNA General President
Terry O’Sullivan

Even so, smoking’s allure continues. Every day, approximately 4,000 adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 try their first cigarette. The younger they are, the more likely they will become addicted to the nicotine and the more likely the smoking habit will follow them into adulthood. On the eve of the American Cancer Society’s 36th Great American Smokeout on November 17th, smoking remains the leading cause of premature death in both the United States and Canada. In these two countries alone, smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke kills an estimated 488,000 people every year.

LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan has long urged members to break the tobacco habit. He points out, “Four out of every ten Laborers are tobacco users, and two thirds smoke more than a pack a day. Quitting is a battle, but the payoff is well worth the effort.”

About 37 percent of construction Laborers smoke compared to 30 percent of all blue-collar workers and 18 percent of white-collar professionals. This is particularly alarming because exposures to hazardous materials like asbestos, radon and silica are sometimes unavoidable in construction. Coupled with smoking, these exposures can create toxicological synergies, circumstances that increase likelihood for developing the serious health consequences often associated with tobacco use, such as lung cancer. Smoking increases the risk of lung cancer by 11 times. Asbestos exposure, by itself, increases lung cancer risk by five times. Laborers who smoke and are exposed to asbestos increase their chances for developing lung cancer by 50 times or more. Toxicological synergies also increase one’s risk for oral cancer and cancers of the throat and esophagus.

What Happens When You Quit

Twenty minutes later: Heart rate and blood pressure drop.

Twelve hours later: Carbon monoxide level in blood returns to normal.

Two weeks to three months later: Circulation improves. Lung function increases.

One to nine months later: Coughing and shortness of breath decrease; cilia (tiny hair-like structures that move mucus out of the lungs) regain normal function in the lungs, increasing the ability to handle mucus, clean the lungs and reduce the risk of infection.

One year later: Risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a smoker’s.

Five to 15 years later: Stroke risk is reduced to that of a non-smoker.

Ten years later: Lung cancer death rate is about half that of a smoker’s. Risk for cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, bladder, cervix and pancreas also decrease.

Fifteen years later: Coronary heart disease risk is the same as a non-smoker’s.

And it’s not just cancer they invite when they light up. Laborers who smoke increase their likelihood of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) which is caused by two diseases commonly associated with cigarette use: emphysema and chronic bronchitis. COPD has no cure, it worsens over time and millions of smokers lose their lives to it. The risk for heart disease also goes up. Thirty percent of all heart disease deaths are linked to smoking, and heart disease is the leading cause of death among Laborers.

Even worse is the fact that it’s not just their own health that they jeopardize. Cancer and heart disease from exposure to secondhand smoke – smoke from the lit end of a cigarette that is inhaled by others – kills more than 50,000 Americans and Canadians every year. Laborers who smoke endanger the wellbeing of all the non-smokers in their circles: family members, friends and co-workers.

“The Great American Smokeout provides a good opportunity for every Laborer who smokes to reconsider the habit,” says O’Sullivan. “If you smoke, circle November 17th on your calendar. Make it the day you stop for good.”

Many quit aids are available through the American Cancer Society’s Smokeout webpage. In addition, the Fund has a great number of publications that address the problem of tobacco use. These are available through the online Publications Catalogue.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]