At the Scene: Smoking and Paramedics

Paramedics have chosen to spend their lives saving others. Unknowingly, paramedics who smoke cigarettes may be exposing the injured to the dangers of third-hand smoke.

paramedics helping patient in front of the house

Paramedics spend their working lives saving others. While this is a noble profession, some EMTs engage in behaviors that unwittingly put themselves, and those they serve, at risk of health issues. The behavior in question is tobacco use. According to recent studies, up to 36% of paramedics use tobacco products.

The Health Effects of Tobacco

It’s not a secret that tobacco products are the leading cause of preventable deaths in the developed world. The American Heart Association reports that it results in more preventable deaths than any other cause. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death, and it is almost entirely caused by tobacco product usage. Cigarette smoke has also been shown to cause cardiovascular diseases, COPD/emphysema, and stroke. Chew tobacco, often seen as a less dangerous option, is linked to mouth and throat related cancers. This is all aside from the fact that smoking can cause or accelerate numerous other cancers and diseases, and that it is linked to chronic issues like allergies and asthma.

What some paramedics might not realize is that they do not have to smoke around their patients in order to do them harm. Third-hand smoke has been studied more in-depth in recent years, and it has been shown to be the cause of drastically decreased air quality.

Third-hand smoke refers to the smoke and nicotine residue which clings to clothing, bedding, furniture, or hair after one smokes a cigarette. It doesn’t just stay where it lands, however. Third-hand smoke can be reemitted into the air over and over again, contaminating the air quality. Much like other tobacco smoke, third-hand smoke contains numerous chemicals which can lead to health issues.

This becomes a problem when paramedics work with those who are already fighting an illness or injury. These vulnerable individuals may be especially susceptible to third-hand smoke related issues. The only way for paramedics to prevent spreading the smoke residue is to completely shower and change clothes after every cigarette. This is generally not an option, especially when smoking is done during breaks while on duty.

Why Paramedics Smoke

The reasoning behind why paramedics, and other health professionals, smoke is similar to the reasons others smoke. EMTs are faced with a very stressful job. Long hours, lack of sleep, irregular schedules, and being exposed to death and serious injury on a daily basis can wear a person down after a while. Some turn to cigarettes to help ease the stress of this burden. Nicotine, the addictive drug found in cigarettes, help relax those who smoke, allowing them to believe they can better handle stress.

What can be Done to Prevent Complications

There is no safe cigarette, and no safe level of tobacco smoke. This is especially true for those who already face chronic or life-threatening conditions, such as many patients helped by paramedics. What is the answer for worker and patient safety? The only real prevention for issues and affection of smoking for paramedics, is to cease smoking. This isn’t easy for everyone, especially heavy smokers or those who feel they need the stress relief. There are numerous stop-smoking aids available, however. Prescription medications, nicotine replacement therapies may all help smokers quit with a less stressful transition.

Paramedics choose their profession because they choose to save people. Quitting smoking now validates this chosen position. Exposing injured people to the dangers of third-hand smoke is not the goal of any person who dedicates their lives to helping those in need. Quitting now eliminates this risk of exposure, and sends a clear message that safety is the only option.
Published: March 8, 2015


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