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Workplace Stress Makes Healthy Choices Go Up in Smoke

Smokers light up more often when they face work-family conflict and stress, a new study suggests.

A study of 423 adult American smokers suggests that stress stemming from work-family conflict can lead to an increase in smoking and other unhealthy behaviors. Based on their findings, researchers from the Indiana University School of Public Health-Bloomington encourage employers to implement workplace wellness and smoking cessation programs to help boost employee health.

The study, "The Association Between Work-Family Conflict and Smoking Quantity Among Daily Smokers," found that men and women who smoked daily reported that their smoking increased when conflict from work affected their home life. Women also reported the inverse: increased smoking when home conflict affected their work.

"There's growing evidence that work-family conflict is related to a range of negative health behaviors, and it's something for workplace wellness programs to take into consideration when they're trying to get employees to engage in healthier behaviors, whether it's physical activity, nutrition or quitting smoking," said Jon Macy, lead author and assistant professor in the Department of Applied Health Science at the School of Public Health-Bloomington.

"Wellness programs are becoming increasingly prevalent in the workplace," Macy added. "If a program is going to deal with smoking, given how difficult it is for people to quit, it might be more successful by looking at some of the underlying issues. Our findings suggest that work-home conflict is one area that should be looked at and addressed in cessation counseling."

Smoking Cessation

The study also found that employees who reported more lenient workplace smoking restrictions smoked more.

"It's another intervention that seems to work," Macy said. "We know from lots and lots of research that smoke-free air policies in the workplace result in reduced smoking either in the form of quitting or smoking fewer cigarettes per day."

Overall, researchers discovered that health behaviors improved after the recession, which is a finding of some previous studies. But those who were most affected by the recession and faced the most financial strain, Macy added, were least likely to abstain from smoking, to exercise or to engage in healthy eating behaviors.

While workplace wellness programs have become increasingly common, the people who need them the most might no longer be working because of the recession. That is why it's so important during an economic downturn for these wellness opportunities to be available through community-based organizations, such as park districts or YMCAs, Macy said.

The study was published online in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research.

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