Should construction workers be vaping instead of smoking?


  • Some 34 percent of construction workers smoke compared to 16 percent of the general public.
  • Many people are turning to e-cigarettes as a healthier option or a way to help them quit smoking. However, there is limited research on the true health effects of vaping.
  • Nabholz Corporation, an Arkansas construction firm, has set up a wellness program to help employees quit smoking. The company’s wellness director has some tips for reducing smoking on the job site.

Most people are well aware of the health risks of smoking, but quitting can often be a major challenge. More and more Americans are turning to electronic cigarettes as an alternative to smoking, but is it actually healthier? That’s still up for debate.

Construction is on fire

The construction industry has a smoking problem. Tobacco use is higher in construction workers than any other industry, with 34.3 percent of worker smoking, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Comparatively, only 15.5 percent of the general public smoked in 2016.

Jayme Mayo, wellness director at Conway, Arkansas-based Nabholz Corporation, says about 35 percent of her team are tobacco users, but they are split between smoking and dipping tobacco.

Since Nabholz does a lot of construction work for hospitals and schools, which often have tobacco-free policies, Mayo says the company’s workers usually can’t smoke on job sites.

Nabholz Corporation offers financial incentives to workers who quit smoking. Click To Tweet

“They’ll smoke on the way to work and try to step off campus, smoke on breaks, smoke at lunch, and then smoke on the way home and at night,” she says. “My people are probably smoking more in the morning and evening than during the day.”

Still, helping workers quit smoking is a major part of the company’s highly regarded wellness program, which offers financial incentives to those who quit. This can be a big motivator, Mayo says.

“Not only are they earning money for quitting. They’re also not spending money to buy the tobacco in the first place,” Mayo notes. “It’s kind of a two for one, financially.”

Understanding e-cigarettes

E-cigarettes come in several different shapes and sizes, but they often resemble traditional cigarettes in appearance. They usually have a battery, some type of heating element and a compartment to hold liquid. The aerosol, commonly known as “vapor,” is produced in e-cigarettes by heating a liquid that contains nicotine and other chemicals, which users then inhale into their lungs. The use of e-cigarettes is referred to as “vaping.”

Smoking traditional cigarettes has been linked to increased risk for coronary heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, and poor overall health among smokers versus non-smokers, according to the CDC. When it comes to using e-cigarettes, researchers aren’t yet sure of their full health effects, likely because vaping is still relatively new.

E-cigarettes still contain nicotine. The aerosol itself also possesses cancer-causing agents.

E-cigarettes still contain nicotine, which is highly addictive. The aerosol itself also possesses cancer-causing agents and tiny particles that can get into the lungs. However, aerosol generally has fewer harmful chemicals than the smoke from traditional cigarettes.

In 2014, 12.6 percent of adults had tried an e-cigarette, and use of the devices is on the rise.

Many researchers think e-cigarettes can help reduce nicotine cravings and help smokers quit. However, e-cigarettes are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and research on their effectiveness as a quit agent is still limited.

Mayo says she’s seeing more people in her organization vaping, but they tend to be office workers.

“Our people like tobacco,” she says. “I am seeing some people vaping. One, it’s cheaper. And, two, they think it will help them reduce the amount of nicotine they have, and they use it as a way to try to quit.”

Helping workers quit

Nabholz’s tobacco-use policies and incentives that encourage employees to quit smoking has a proven record of reducing the number of smokers among Mayo’s team over the years.

“I think they’re better educated, and they’re motivated to quit because there’s a financial incentive behind it,” she says.
Nabholz’s tobacco-use policies and incentives that encourage employees to quit smoking have reduced he number of smokers among Mayo’s team over the years. Click To Tweet Mayo urges other construction business leaders to set up programs to help their workers quit smoking. She suggests three resources that companies can use to reduce smoking on job sites:

  • Embrace free community resources, like local and national hotlines that help people quit smoking. She also urges workers to team up to become accountability partners.
  • Provide lower-cost items, such as over-the-counter products, to your team members free of charge to help them quit. These include nicotine patches, nicotine gum, and lozenges.
  • Consider higher-cost resources, like prescription drugs, counseling, hypnosis, or acupuncture.

“It’s more about setting people up to be successful,” Mayo says. “Part of that is letting them know what resources are available—whether they’re in the community, in your company, or through your health plan.”

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