While the prevalence of smoking among firefighters is lower than those in some other professions, it is still a problem for those who do choose to light up. The health implications are clear, since smoking has been linked to all manner of disease. There are also moral issues to contend with among those firefighters who use tobacco products. The overuse of matches and lighters, especially by young people, is a hazardous proposition that those who fight fires for a living should understand all too clearly. As role models in the community, firefighters are also held to a higher standard of behavior, whether right or wrong.
The Health Effects of Smoking
Use of tobacco products is dangerous for everyone. According to the Centers for Disease Control, smoking leads to lung and other cancers, heart disease, lung conditions, and some chronic conditions like asthma and allergies. These issues are prevalent within the general population, but they are compounded in those who fight fires. This is due to firefighters’ exposure to carbon dioxide and other deadly gases in their line of work. House fires, chemical fires, and other job hazards greatly affect the lungs of those who are exposed to them regularly. Despite safety equipment being implemented, firefighters have still been shown to deal with some exposure to deadly inhalants while on the job, according to recent findings.
Moral Implications for Firefighters
Few would argue that our nation’s firefighters and rescue forces are heroes. They put their lives at risk to save others on a daily basis, and that is something to be honored. However, with this hero status comes an even greater responsibility. Firefighters are often seen as model citizens, and children often look up to them as role models and mentors. While this may put undue stress on some professionals, the fact still remains that firefighters who smoke will influence many young people. If a child sees a firefighter smoking, they may associate it with being “cool” or “brave” or any number of other positive traits. They don’t see the job stressors which may lead a firefighter to smoke in the fire place. They only see their heroes lighting up.
Even more risky is when children try to mimic this behavior. This not only leads to more youth smoking, but also puts them at risk of starting fires. Use of lighters and matches in order to light cigarettes are major risk factors for fire, especially when used among children or teens.
Additionally, firefighters who smoke and then go around children or family members put loved ones at risk of smoke inhalation and health issues: the very things their jobs have them fighting against.
What can be Done?
Firefighters often smoke due to job related stress. However, there are other ways to fight stress and avoid anxiety for those who need it. Exercise, meditation, prayer, and even medications are available. Being given counseling opportunities after traumatic eventsis also sometimes necessary – and recommended.
Read more about the effects cigarette smoke has on the human body at The Effects of Smoking.
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