A survey on smoking rates by industry/occupation conducted by Vapourlites reveals that, despite the continuing decline of smoking among the general population, smoking rates in some industries/occupations remain astonishingly high. Besides revealing industries that smoke the most, the researchers also looked at possible reasons for high smoking rates among specific industries and assessed the efficacy of the existing smoking reduction policy.
Smoking Rates by Industry/Occupation
Figure 1 reveals that accommodation and food service industry has the highest rate of smokers (30.3%), followed by construction (28.9%), transportation (26.1%), and water and waste management (25.90%) occupations. The national smoking prevalence of 16.9% (England) is also exceeded by those employed in art, design and media (17.3%).
The lowest smoking prevalence was found among healthcare workers (8.9%), followed by occupations in science and education (9.2%), legal (12.3%) and finance (12.6%), all having smoking rates below the national average.
A closer look at the findings of the survey which included 50 companies from different industry sectors also reveals that routine and manual occupations tend to have the highest smoking rates. This is consistent with the findings of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), Health & Social Care Information Centre (HSIC) and the report on adult smoking habits in Great Britain in 2014 by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). These, among other findings, also identified a strong link between smoking rates and socioeconomic status, as individuals with a lower income and education tend to smoke the most.
Possible Causes for High Smoking Rates among Routine and Manual Occupations
According to studies that were conducted on the issue of smoking rates by industry/occupation both in the UK and abroad, there are several possible explanations for high smoking prevalence among routine and manual occupations. Besides socioeconomic factors, others include:
- Restrictions of Smoking in Workplace. Smoking in some workplaces was prohibited only with the Health Act 2006 which was enforced in 2007. Other occupations, most notably in healthcare and education, had smoking restrictions for years before the adoption of the smoke free law. This means that some industries possibly have higher smoking rates because smoking restrictions in the workplace were imposed relatively late.
- Lower Awareness of the Smoking Risks. Considering that that there is a strong connection between smoking and education and income on the other end, it is possible that routine and manual workers are less aware of the smoking risks. As a result, they are less likely to make a serious effort to quit.
- Lower Stigma of Smoking. The higher the number of smokers, the lesser the pressure on the individual to give up their unhealthy habit. Furthermore, high smoking prevalence may create a false sense of belonging and identification, which in turn may turn smoking into a tool to gain respect and approval from fellow workers.
The Existing Smoking Reduction Policy in Need of Revision
High smoking rates in some industries/occupations are a serious cause for concern for two reasons. The first reason is because workers in those industries/occupations are at an increased risk of cancer, heart disease and other smoking related diseases that claim nearly 100,000 lives in the UK each year. Secondly, the correlation between smoking on the one hand and low income and education on the other suggests that some workers are at an increased risk of socioeconomic disadvantage not only because they smoke but also because of the job they are doing.
Findings of the survey and prior studies on the issue of high smoking rates in some industries/occupations indicate that the existing smoking reduction policy may be in need of a revision. To reduce the smoking prevalence in industries/occupations that have been found to smoke the most, the government action to lower the rate of smoking should perhaps include more emphasis on the most vulnerable groups and make smoking cessation programmes more relevant and accessible to these groups.