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Construction Worker Smoking Trends Employers Need to Know

March 2, 2022
By Pivot
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It’s an undeniable reality that many construction workers use tobacco

Not only does research indicate that tobacco use in the construction industry is higher than in the general public, but also shows that construction workers have higher odds of using tobacco products than non-construction workers.

Even more jarring is that tobacco use among construction industry employees is rising. To help construction employers combat this trend, we’ve compiled the latest research on industry tobacco use trends.

Employee tobacco use today

The pandemic has increased employee tobacco consumption

When surveying workers, a stark reality began to emerge surrounding the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on tobacco usage. Around 22% of surveyed workers stated that they started using tobacco for the first time during the pandemic; 18% responded that they were using tobacco before the pandemic and increased their usage, and 11% had previously quit using tobacco but started again during COVID-19.

Our findings also highlighted a large gap between what employers believed they knew about employee tobacco use – and the harsh realities.

Employers are lost

When asked the following question – “does your company know which of your workers are tobacco users?” – 62% of employers responded that they had extensive information on employee tobacco usage. At the same time, many employers expressed doubt in the accuracy of their data on tobacco usage amongst their employees. Around 59% of the employers surveyed stated that their employee tobacco usage data was less than “completely accurate.”

Such data underlines the juxtaposition of what employers believe they know and the prevalence of worker tobacco use. All the while, employers admit to understanding that their worker tobacco use data isn’t 100% accurate.

Why employers often have incorrect data on tobacco use

Employers often have incorrect data related to worker tobacco use. This is due in part to the reliance employers have on workers to self-report their tobacco usage. In fact, 64% of employer respondents believed that self-reporting played a part in inaccurate tobacco-using worker data.

Other reasons included:

  • Workers are being motivated to disclose tobacco use (28%)
  • Employees are automatically registered as tobacco users in their system unless they choose to opt-out (34%)
  • Lack of a good process in place to track information (28%)
  • More urgent programs to focus on (16%)
  • Lack of personnel needed to track this information (13%)

This disconnect between employer perception versus reality is apparent when looking at worker responses. Almost two-thirds (72%) of these respondents admitted to avoiding revealing tobacco use to their employer – and usually for many reasons.

Workers avoid revealing tobacco use

One of the most common reasons workers avoid revealing their tobacco use is due to concern about their reputation at work. As an often stigmatized habit, tobacco use carries the potential to negatively impact perceptions of the tobacco user.

Additional reasons workers avoid revealing their tobacco use to their employer include:

  • They believe that their tobacco usage isn’t a problem (36%)
  • To avoid paying a health insurance surcharge (34%)
  • They think that their tobacco use isn’t their employer’s business (30%)
  • They don’t want to be treated differently by their employer (25%)
  • They don’t want to be nagged to quit using tobacco (26%)

Despite the attempts made by workers to keep the knowledge of their tobacco use under wraps, many of these same workers use tobacco during work hours. This on-the-clock use may be more common than construction industry employers think, and can be detrimental to worker productivity and health.

On-the-clock tobacco use has increased

When and where employees are using tobacco

Survey respondents gave a candid look into their workplace tobacco use habits. While 37% stated that they only used tobacco on official breaks (i.e. lunch, coffee, etc.), 35% shared that they use tobacco any time they get a break (including waiting for assignment); 26% said they were able to use tobacco and work at the same time; and only 2% said they never use tobacco while on the job, even on breaks. And while designated smoking areas are the places where tobacco is most commonly used, additional areas include in a worker-owned vehicle (49%), any convenient location (50%), and in an employer-owned vehicle (29%).

So, with such prevalent tobacco usage among workers, what are employers to do?

Worker tobacco use is more complicated than meets the eye

Statistics such as these illustrate a more complicated landscape than meets the eye: tobacco use among construction workers is not only on the rise but has encroached on day-to-day responsibilities. With tobacco use comes the potential to impact things such as brand perception, quality of work, healthcare costs, and health of the working population, to name a few.

There’s little progress to be made until employers can understand who is in their tobacco-using population. These efforts begin with motivated leaders who are ready to make tangible and widespread changes that come with providing benefits that have real, intrinsic value to workers.

FAQs About Construction Workers and Smoking

Is tobacco use higher in the construction industry compared to the general public?
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Yes, research shows that tobacco use is higher in the construction industry than in the general public and is more prevalent amongst construction workers compared to non-construction workers.

Has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the tobacco consumption of construction industry employees?
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Yes, the pandemic has led to an increase in tobacco consumption among construction workers. 22% started using tobacco for the first time during the pandemic, 18% increased their usage, and 11% who had quit started again during COVID-19.

How accurate is the data employers have on worker tobacco use?
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The data employers have on worker tobacco use often needs to be more accurate. Although 62% of employers believe they have extensive information, about 59% admit that their data on employee tobacco usage is less than "completely accurate," often due to reliance on self-reporting.

Why do workers often avoid revealing their tobacco use to employers?
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Workers often avoid revealing their tobacco use due to concerns about workplace reputation, avoiding health insurance surcharges, maintaining personal privacy, not wanting to be treated differently or nagged to quit. Almost 72% of workers admitted to concealing their tobacco use from employers.

Has there been an increase in tobacco usage during work hours in the construction industry?
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Yes, on-the-clock tobacco use has become more common among construction workers. While 37% claim they only use tobacco on official breaks, 35% use it any time they get a break, and 26% stated they can use tobacco and work simultaneously. Only 2% claim to avoid tobacco entirely while on the job.

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Attitudes Toward Tobacco Use in the Workplace

Get our research report and gain three actionable insights that construction industry leaders can implement to effectively combat rising, hidden employee tobacco use.

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