Smoking Among IT Professionals: Why Quitting is Important

IT professionals aren’t especially likely to smoke, but their low-activity lifestyle means that the cardiovascular disease risks brought on by smoking are all the more relevant. That’s why helping IT professionals quit is absolutely essential.

IT professionals may not be able to smoke in their offices, but that doesn’t stop them from doing so outside. Even under a grim, cloud-covered sky as rain beats down on all below, you’ll see a small group of smokers huddled together outside offices around the country. The problem with smoking and IT professionals might not be as big as in some other professions, but their low activity levels and sometimes bad diets mean that the risk of heart problems as a result of smoking is much more serious for office workers in general. This is one of the many reasons that breaking the link between smoking and IT workers is a priority for public health.

Smoking Rates Among IT Professionals 

A big part in finding out about the problem with IT professionals and smoking is finding out how many of them do it. According to the CDC, between 2004 and 2010, 12.8% of those in computer and mathematical occupations (including computer specialists) were current smokers. This is lower than for most professions – it’s actually the sixth lowest – but is still high enough to cause some concern. For comparison, about 19% of office and administrative support workers smoke, so IT professionals are generally less likely to smoke than their co-workers in other areas.

The Risks of Smoking for IT Professionals: How Lifestyle Impacts Risks

Working in IT ordinarily means having a sedentary lifestyle. This is actually a bad thing, because research has shown that your risk of several diseases increases with the time you spend sitting. Those who sat longer than four hours a day were more likely to suffer from diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. If this is coupled with a poor diet, the risk of these conditions and others increases even further.

Smoking, as most people know, is a cause of many different diseases throughout the body. In fact, smoking is associated with all of these conditions the study from the previous paragraph found were associated with living a sedentary lifestyle. The problem here is easy to see: although smoking is dangerous for everybody regardless of occupation, for IT professionals, it adds to their pre-existing risks. This makes smoking as an IT professional even more dangerous.

Workplace Smoking Bans and the Downsides of Hiring IT Professionals Who Smoke

With workplace smoking bans now being widespread, IT professionals who smoke have to go outside to light up. If this is confined to designated break times, then it doesn’t cause a problem. However, if workers take “smoking breaks” specifically for the purpose of getting their nicotine fix, this causes a big problem for their productivity. This is common at many offices, and although other workers also take impromptu breaks – for example to get a cup of coffee – smoking breaks are in addition to these other breaks, and are one of the reasons employers might think twice about hiring a smoker.

Even if an IT professional doesn’t take smoking breaks, withdrawal symptoms from nicotine start to take effect as early as a couple of hours after your last cigarette. These symptoms include anxiety, headaches, problems concentrating, restlessness and many others. Nicotine withdrawal, as you may expect, isn’t conducive to productive work.

For an employer, this all underlines the downsides of having an employee who smokes. Add in the greater absenteeism among smokers and the motivation to either choose non-smoking employees or help existing employees smoke is hard to ignore.

Helping IT Professionals Quit Smoking

The health risks of smoking should be enough to make IT professionals want to quit, and employers should be eager to help smoking employees quit to maximize the productivity of their workforce. But how do you help IT professionals quit smoking?

Ultimately, any evidence-based approach to quitting smoking is acceptable for IT workers, including medications like Zyban or Chantix, nicotine replacement therapy products, behavioral counseling or even alternative nicotine products like e-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco. The best approach is to combine medication with behavioral counseling, but for smokers who struggle to go completely nicotine-free or don’t want to, patches, gums, nicotine inhalers, e-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco are the best options.

Quitting smoking is always a challenge, though, so to really break the link between IT professionals and smoking, it’s important to underline the risks of tobacco and how these overlap with the risks of a sedentary lifestyle and a poor diet. Finally, and most importantly, everybody in the office should show support to workers who are trying to make a positive change in their lives by quitting. Every bit of positive feedback and encouragement helps.