Lawyers at Risk: Law Firms & Big Tobacco

Smoking is a matter of choice, not law. However, lawyers deal with many people on a regular basis. Smoking puts everyone at risk, including coworkers, clients, and colleagues.

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Tobacco use among lawyers continues to be high, despite common knowledge that tobacco products are deadly. The reasons behind the widespread and often chronic tobacco usage among American attorneys are complex and varied. Some studies speculate that it is due to the high levels of stress most lawyers experience during law school and the subsequent years making a name for themselves in law firms.

Other studies have found that lawyers are more likely to suffer from mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety disorders, than the general population. Those with conditions are much more likely to smoke than most, according to the American Psychological Association.

The Dangers of Smoking for Lawyers

Smoking cigarettes leads to a wide range of health conditions. It is linked to lung cancer, and it may also cause or exacerbate numerous other types of cancer, such as cancers of the mouth, prostate, pancreas, and liver. Cardiovascular disease is also more prevalent among smokers, as are strokes, high blood pressure, and lung disorders such as COPD/emphysema.

These issues may be doubly troublesome for lawyers. Attorneys work in stressful job environments, which also puts them at higher risk of high blood pressure and other risk factors for heart disease. While this stress is what leads many lawyers to smoke in the first place, it also makes the potential health hazards of smoking more worrisome than for those who do not have additional risk factors. Even so, according to a study published in Comprehensive Psychiatry, up to 15% of all lawyers smoke.

Ethical Issues for Smoking Lawyers

The ethical implications for lawyers who smoke are varied, and may depend on the branch of law in which the person specializes. Those who represent Big Tobacco may have no qualms with lighting up themselves, whereas those who represent victims of Big Tobacco would do well to avoid cigarettes or risk being labeled hypocritical. There are also lawyers specializing in taking down tobacco companies, which would lead to a major conflict of interest if those same attorneys also smoked cigarettes themselves.

Lawyers who smoke may also unwittingly put their clients and coworkers at risk. Third-hand smoke, or the residue from cigarette smoke, clings to clothing, hair, and other soft surfaces and can easily reenter the air. This can greatly impact air quality, putting those in the area at risk. While this may seem to be a small amount of air pollution, the Surgeon General says that no amount of cigarette smoke is safe enough for human health. Those lawyers who represent consumers harmed by the tobacco industry face an even greater moral dilemma when putting clients at risk of third-hand smoke exposure.

Reducing Risks

The only way to fully reduce risks is to quit smoking. Numerous stop-smoking aids are now available to those who wish to quit, including nicotine replacement products, e-cigarettes, and prescription medications. These make quitting very possible, even for those who have smoked for extended periods of time, or those who smoke even several packs of cigarettes per day. It may not be a matter of law, but it is a matter of health.