Men who work long hours or in high stress jobs are more likely to smoke, according to a new University of Melbourne study.
The study finds that men who work more than 50 hours a week are over twice as likely to smoke as their counterparts working regular full-time hours.
These men double their risk yet again, if they have jobs which are demanding and over which they have low levels of control.
Smoking among female workers is linked most strongly to being in a physically demanding job.
The research, led by Associate Professor Tony LaMontagne, from The McCaughey Centre: VicHealth Centre for the Promotion of Mental Health and Community Wellbeing, is published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine in August of 2007.
The study compares the smoking habits of 1100 Victorian workers with their levels of job stress, number of hours worked and other employment conditions.
VicHealth Fellow Associate Professor LaMontagne says the study is important new evidence, which adds to mounting data showing that stressful working environments are linked to unhealthy behaviours.
Associate Professor LaMontagne says job stress impacts on smoking by being a barrier to quitting.
“More than 70 per cent of people start smoking before or around the time they begin working,” he says.
Victorian Health Promotion Foundation (VicHealth) CEO, Todd Harper, believes these findings are important in improving health promotion and in turn preventing disease and ill health.
“Workplace health promotion programs that encourage employees to give up smoking without reducing job stress would be missing an important opportunity to promote healthy working conditions as well as healthy behaviours,” Mr Harper says.
These findings are timely because the Department of Human Services is currently reworking its framework for promoting health and wellbeing, Mr Harper adds.
“All governments, employers and unions need to consider reducing job stress and other unhealthy working conditions, coupled with programs to reduce smoking,” Mr Harper says.
Associate Professor LaMontagne says further study is urgently needed into the effect of excessive working hours on employee health behaviours, since the combination could greatly increase the risk of adverse health behaviours.
“Australia is one of the top three OECD countries in terms of the percentage of the population working over 50 hours a week,’’ he says.
“The strong association between working hours and smoking in this study could be a warning to other OECD countries experiencing a growth in working hours.”
A previous study by Associate Professor LaMontagne’s team shows a strong link between working hours and having a higher body mass index.
Associate Professor LaMontagne says job stress and its impact on smoking habits played out in different ways between men and women.
“More research needs to be done accounting for the health impacts of non-paid work such as caring and home duties, which is still disproportionately carried out by women,” he says.
Funding sources for the study included the National Heart Foundation, VicHealth, NHMRC, and Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research (Canada).
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