Plumbers and Smoking: Quitting Isn’t a Pipe Dream

Plumbers have some of the highest smoking rates out of all occupations in the U.S., but on-the-job risks of exposure to things like asbestos mean that the risks of smoking are all the more serious for people in the trade.

Quitting smoking is challenging, whatever your situation in life, but the main reason to do it is always the same: smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the U.S.. With abundant health risks from smoking alone, any extra danger added by your occupation puts you at even greater risk than most people. For plumbers, who are more likely to smoke than most workers in the U.S., this last concern is particularly important, because their job puts them at risk from things like asbestos exposure. That’s why the problem with smoking and plumbers is particularly concerning, and why quitting smoking for plumbers is even more essential than for most occupations.

Smoking Rates Among Plumbers

The first step to understanding the problem with smoking and plumbers is finding out how many of them smoke. There isn’t much data specifically addressing smoking among plumbers, but the CDC’s analysis of data from between 2004 and 2010 shows a breakdown of smoking rates by major occupational categories. The data shows that people in the construction and extraction occupations smoke more than any other occupational group, with 31.4% being current smokers.

This rate is much higher than in the general population, but it’s important to remember that this isn’t only about plumbers. Other workers in construction and extraction are also included, so this is the rate of smoking among plumbers, other construction workers, laborers, supervisors of construction work and people in extraction all combined into one figure. This means the smoking rate among plumbers specifically could be a little higher or lower than this.

Job Risks for Plumbers and Smoking

The link between plumbers and smoking is already concerning because of the high smoking rates in the group, but things get worse when you consider on-the-job risks plumbers face. One of the most relevant of these for the present discussion is asbestos exposure among plumbers.

Because asbestos has heat and fire-resistant properties, asbestos was widely used on things like pipes and boilers which plumbers have to deal with every day. This ceased when the cancer risk from asbestos was identified, but plumbers working in a house with pipes, ducts, tanks and boilers made between the 1940s and the 1970s will still be exposed. Some of the tools and materials plumbers use on-the-job may also contain asbestos if they were made before the 1980s.

The big problem is that asbestos causes cancer, and based on a 2007 study, about three-fifths of plumbers are exposed to a significant amount of asbestos fibers during their workday. Early studies also suggest an increase in lung cancer from asbestos exposure in plumbers.

Add smoking into the mix and things get a lot worse for plumbers. As a cause of lung cancer (and many other different cancers) on its own, the risks of asbestos exposure and smoking combine to increase the likelihood of cancer for plumbers who smoke even further.

Smoking Among Plumbers and Stress

Stress is also a key component of the higher smoking rates among plumbers. The reason for this is simple: plumbing involves long hours, shift work and lots of on-the-job pressure, and many people turn to cigarettes to help them cope with stress. In the short-term, smoking can indeed provide relief from stress, but the situation in the long-term is different.

Between cigarettes, smokers generally experience more stress than non-smokers. This is because the longer you go without nicotine, the more you experience withdrawal symptoms, which include stress, irritability and – of course – cravings for nicotine. The net effect of this is that smokers have more of a problem with stress than most people.

There are two things you can do to solve this problem. First, learn some healthier coping mechanisms for dealing with stress and attempt to put them into practice when you’d otherwise be lighting up a cigarette. This may include trying to deal with the source of the stress instead of just dealing with the symptoms you experience as a result. Second, you can quit smoking.

Quitting Smoking for Plumbers

Quitting smoking as a plumber isn’t easy (because it never is), but you can do it. Whether you want to use medications, nicotine patches or gums, alternative nicotine products like e-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco, or just quit “cold turkey,” with willpower and perseverance, you’ll be able to break free of the addiction.

Using some support (whether one of those listed above or a stop-smoking counseling service) will increase your odds of quitting, so this is recommended rather than trying to quit unassisted. However, you can be successful quitting “cold turkey” too, it just depends a lot more on your willpower and the stress management techniques you’ve learned. The most important thing for breaking the link between smoking and plumbers is that you completely commit yourself to quitting, whichever method you use.

Regardless of your approach, the important thing to remember is that you’re quitting smoking for a reason. Smoking is incredibly dangerous, and the risks of your job make this even more serious, so quitting is essential for reducing your risk of cancer. Just stick with your quit attempt, and remember to reach out for further support whenever you need it. If you successfully quit, your risks of smoking-related diseases start to decrease almost immediately, so it’s never too late to make a positive change.