Social workers are in a great position to help people quit smoking. Their job is all about helping people in a difficult situation, and these are the people who are most likely to smoke. Ensuring social workers are prepared to help people quit – and smoke-free themselves – could put a huge dent in the smoking rate.
According to the CDC, over ten times as many Americans have died from smoking than have been lost in all the wars it’s ever fought. It kills around 480,000 people every year, and bringing this figure down is one of the biggest priorities for public health. Although doctors, health care workers and staff at stop-smoking services are who most people think of helping smokers quit, social workers are really in the opportune position to help people quit. Deepening the connection between social workers and smoking cessation could literally save people’s lives.
Why Social Workers and Smoking Cessation Fit Together Perfectly
Social workers and smoking cessation are a perfect fit for a couple of reasons. Firstly, social workers are there to help people, and helping someone quit smoking is one of the best things you can do. However, social workers have a lot of different issues they help people with, and smoking generally isn’t one they pay a lot of attention to. When people are struggling to provide for themselves, having trouble living ordinary life, forming relationships and getting through education, a smoking habit often doesn’t seem like the most urgent concern.
However, there is no doubt that quitting smoking is also in their best interest. Through helping them with other – arguably more urgent – problems in their life, social workers gain people’s trust. This puts them in a great position to influence people by both setting a good example and actively encouraging them to quit.
Social Workers: Helping the Most Vulnerable to Smoking
The other major reason social workers and smoking cessation should be combined is the specific people social workers deal with. People with lower education, lower socioeconomic status, disabilities and many other disadvantaged groups are both the main focus of social work and are more likely to smoke than the general population.
In other words, social workers interact with the people who are more likely to be smokers, and even if they don’t smoke, they’re the ones most at risk of starting to smoke. Training them in smoking cessation would be an effective way to get the important message and the much-needed support out to the most vulnerable.
Smoking Rates Among Social Workers
However, like other groups, many social workers do smoke. The CDC looked at smoking rates in different occupations from 2004 to 2010, and found that 15.9 % of people in health care and social assistance occupations smoked, compared to 19.6 % in the general population. This suggests that social workers probably smoke a lot less than people in other jobs, but since this includes health care workers it’s a bit hard to tell.
Additionally, on-the-job stress is a big issue for social workers, and people who struggle with stress are more likely to smoke. Dealing with people in vulnerable situations first-hand and providing healthcare and psychological support isn’t easy, and the pressure of doing this every single day can lead social workers to start smoking, despite being aware of the risks.
The problem with smoking to reduce stress is that it doesn’t really work. While smoking a cigarette can temporary relieve stress and make you feel better, being in withdrawal from nicotine actually increases your stress levels. This means that you’ll feel better for a short while after smoking, your stress levels will gradually increase as your body processes the nicotine and you start going into withdrawal. When stress levels increase, most smokers just light up again, which sets up a destructive cycle of stress, smoking, more stress and more smoking.
For a social worker, quitting smoking has many advantages. Firstly, quitting smoking dramatically reduces your chances of developing a smoking-related disease, and secondly, it allows you to use healthier methods to cope with stress that work as a long-term strategy. Thirdly – and arguably most importantly – by quitting smoking you’ll be setting a great example for your clients, who may also smoke.
Training Social Workers to Help Clients Quit
Training social workers in smoking cessation is easy to do, but it brings with it tremendous potential benefits. Social workers can learn about the most widely-used approaches for quitting smoking, inform smokers about the risks of continuing in the habit and the benefits of quitting, offer basic counseling or support for any clients trying to quit and direct any clients in need to further support.
If you’re a social worker who’s recently quit smoking, your insights and support may be particularly beneficial to any clients attempting to quit, but even if you don’t have direct experience, support from somebody you know and trust can make a huge difference.
Social workers and smoking cessation don’t have to go hand in hand, but if they do, the potential for benefits is huge.