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1 in 5 American Workers Still Smokes: CDC

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Sept. 29 (HealthDay News) -- Almost 20 percent of American workers are smokers, particularly the least educated, poorest, youngest and uninsured, a new government report finds.

Of workers without a high school education, more than 28 percent smoke, similar to people with no health insurance. Nearly 28 percent of those living below the federal poverty level and 24 percent of adults aged 18 to 24 smoke, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"The smoking rate is 19.3 percent among all adults in the United States," said report co-author Ann M. Malarcher, a senior scientific adviser in the Office on Smoking and Health at the CDC's National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

It's known what works to help these workers quit smoking, Malarcher said. For instance, employers can cover their workers health insurance, including waiving co-payments for smoking cessation programs.

"We also know that establishing 100 percent smoke-free workplace policies does support and assist people with quitting smoking," she added.

More education is also needed about the dangers of smoking, Malarcher said.

The report was published in the Sept. 30 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, a CDC publication.

Using data from the National Health Interview Survey for 2004-2010, the researchers also found that smoking prevalence among workers varied by industry and job.

Among those in educational services, less than 10 percent smoked, compared with 30 percent among people in mining and food services industries. By job, the range of smokers went from less than 9 percent among those in education to more than 31 percent among construction workers, the researchers found.

"We were surprised by the disparities among the occupational groups," Malarcher said. "There is a threefold [difference] between the lowest groups and the highest groups."

Variations in education among the people in these jobs explain some of these differences, Malarcher said.

Younger workers are also more likely to be smokers, the researches found. However, older workers are less likely to smoke. Among those aged 65 and older, a little more than 10 percent were smokers. In addition, smoking was highest among men, whites and those who did not graduate from high school, the researchers noted.

"Well, there is good news and bad news," said Dr. Norman H. Edelman, chief medical officer of the American Lung Association. "On the one hand, overall smoking rates are still declining; on the other hand, the rates of decline are less than what we wished for."

The hardest to reach are young men who are poor, not well-educated and employed in jobs involving physical labor, Edelman said.

"It seems clear that we need better strategies to reach these people with smoking cessation programs. A good way to start would be prohibition of smoking in their workplaces, which has been shown to reduce smoking rates," he said.

Danny McGoldrick, research director at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said that employers can do a lot to help their workers quit smoking.

"We know that if you work in a place that's smoke-free and you work in a place that offers help in quitting smoking, you are less likely to smoke," he said. "Where you live and where you work have a lot to do with whether you smoke and how healthy you are."

More information

For more on smoking, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

SOURCES: Ann M. Malarcher, Ph.D., senior scientific adviser, Office on Smoking and Health, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Norman H. Edelman, M.D., professor, preventive and internal medicine, Stony Brook University, N.Y., chief medical officer, American Lung Association; Danny McGoldrick, research director, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Washington, D.C.; Sept. 30, 2011, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report

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