Smoking Among Mechanics: Widespread and Deadly

Mechanics have some of the highest smoking rates out of any profession, but their line of work exposes them to additional cancer risks that should make them think twice about lighting up.

Smoking is a problem throughout society. Although there are differences in smoking rates between specific groups in society, the truth is that every group has its share of smokers. Mechanics are no different, and as you may expect, the rate of smoking among mechanics is actually slightly higher than in the majority of the population. This would be a concern in itself, but mechanics also do a dangerous job that comes with its own cancer risks, so helping more of them quit is a key priority for reducing the damage done by smoking.

Smoking Rates Among Mechanics

The CDC assessed the smoking rates across various occupations between 2004 and 2010, and found that those working in installation, maintenance and repair (including mechanics) had a smoking rate of 27.2%. By way of comparison, the U.S. smoking rate in 2014 for the general population was 16.8%, and construction and extraction workers (who smoke the most out of all professions) didn’t have a much higher rate than mechanics, at 31.4%.

This all shows that the problem for mechanics is a particularly serious one. Other research from earlier also came to a similar conclusion, ranking mechanics as one of the professions with the highest smoking rate. In short, even without any additional risks from their jobs, mechanics would be one of the occupations we should prioritize in order to bring down the smoking rate.

Why Mechanics Shouldn’t Smoke: The Risks of Smoking and Being a Mechanic

On the whole, mechanics shouldn’t smoke for the same reasons nobody else should either. Smoking causes a huge range of conditions and diseases, including lung and other cancers, cardiovascular disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and many more. Hundreds of thousands of smokers die as a result each year, and on average, smoking reduces your life expectancy by a decade.

However, being a mechanic exposes you to additional risks that make smoking an even worse idea. The most relevant risk of being a mechanic for the discussion of smoking is from the exposure to asbestos. This was widely used in cars and trucks, particularly before the 1970s, and when working on these vehicles, mechanics could be exposed. Asbestos is carcinogenic, and being a mechanic is regarded as a high-risk occupation for this reason.

These risks combine to make smoking among mechanics a particularly serious issue. If you’re a mechanic who smokes, the risks stemming from asbestos exposure add to the risks from smoking and make it even more likely that you’ll get cancer from long-term exposure.

Why Do Mechanics Smoke?

The reasons mechanics smoke are ultimately the same as the reasons anybody else smokes. All jobs carry their own stresses, and mechanics are no different. As well as on-the-job sources of stress, the relatively low wages some mechanics receive also contributes to this stress, particularly if their household is struggling to make ends meet.

Coping with this stress is difficult, and cigarettes offer a superficial way to feel better and get through the day. Nicotine addiction causes its own problems though, especially when you’re trying to quit smoking or haven’t had a cigarette for a while, leading to increased stress in the long run. More importantly, in order to effectively deal with stress, you have to either address the underlying issues that led to the stress, learn healthy coping mechanisms for stress or ideally a combination of both.

However, there are many more reasons than just stress for smoking among mechanics. For example, mechanics who started smoking as youths may be unable to quit, they may be suffering from depression or other mental health issues, or they could smoke for a wide range of other reasons.

Helping More Mechanics Quit Smoking

Because of the increased risks for mechanics who smoke, both from their high smoking rate and the additional risk from their profession, helping as many quit as possible is essential. As well as continuing to educate the public on the risks of smoking, evidence-based approaches to quitting should always be available to mechanics. These include medications like Chantix, nicotine replacement therapies, behavioral counseling, or even alternative nicotine products like smokeless tobacco or e-cigarettes.

These approaches are already available, but since mechanics smoke at a higher rate than most other professions, programs designed specifically to reduce smoking rates among mechanics could be a valuable addition to tobacco control policy. The firefighting profession, for example, used to have high smoking rates, but campaigns to reduce smoking rates were effective. This led to a shift in culture among firefighters, which further served to cement an anti-smoking atmosphere.

Firefighters are a great success story, having gone from a profession with high smoking rates to one with quite a low rate, and programs aimed at mechanics could lead to similar advances being made in the industry.