To Protect and to Serve: Smoking and Law Enforcement

Police officers work under more stress than average positions. Smoking is a prevalent issue for officers, causing damage to themselves, and others around them.

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It’s a well-known fact that mortality among police officers is higher than that of the average citizen. A little less well-known? It isn’t their job directly putting them at risk. Studies performed to predict mortality rates for law enforcement officers have shown that the average age of death is 66 years. This is roughly a decade sooner than most. But these job related deaths are not always due to the risks of being a cop. Murders and other job related deaths are much less common than people realize. Law enforcement officers actually face higher mortality rates due to a stressful job situation, as well as the self-medicating techniques employed by officers to deal with it.

Tobacco use Among Officers

According to John M. Violanti, PhD, up to 40% of police officers use tobacco products regularly. There is also an especially high number of law enforcement officers who die of esophageal cancer, a disease for which smoking and chew tobacco usage are major risk factors. The reasons for such a high instance of tobacco use among police officers is likely to due to maladaptive stress reduction techniques. Studies have also shown that officers are more likely to consume alcohol, with a quarter of them being dependent on it. Suicide and other dangerous behaviors are also more common among those who work in law enforcement.

Why Substance Abuse is an Issue for Police Officers

Working in law enforcement is a tiresome and stressful job. Not only do police officers risk their lives to ensure public safety, but they also endure hours of paperwork, interrupted sleep and family time, and sometimes grueling schedules. To cope with these stressors, many officers may turn to unhealthy habits to help them relax. The nicotine in tobacco products is known to help reduce stress. While this makes cigarettes appealing for those who work in stressful situations, the health risks of tobacco use make them a poor choice for maintained health and longevity.

Health Issues of Smoking

The health complications related to smoking are well documented. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tobacco use leads to lung cancer, heart disease, stroke, and COPD, among other serious health complications. Other issues related to the respiratory and cardiovascular systems are also more common among smokers. Asthma, allergies, and other autoimmune disorders are also more common in those who smoke, as well. These health issues are mostly chronic and potentially fatal. On average, those who smoke live an average of ten years less than those who don’t.

Health Risks to the Public

Not only do smokers pose health risks for themselves, but for those around them, as well. Second-hand smoke is nearly as dangerous as smoking directly, so smokers who light up around colleagues are also putting their coworkers at risk. Third-hand smoke, or smoke residue left on hair, clothes, and other soft surfaces, is also a danger to others. This smoke can reenter the air over and over again, potentially affecting air quality in indoor spaces like offices and cars. Officers who smoke on the job may also be putting coworkers at risk in this way, leading to increased cases of asthma and other respiratory issues.

What can be Done?

The best way for law enforcement officers to prevent health complications to themselves andothers, is to quit smoking. Anti-stress techniques such as meditation, anxiety medications, and physical activity may further help to reducejob related stress. Those who feel they need the help in order to reduce stress may use a less dangerous nicotine replacement product, such as e-cigarettes.