Smoking survey has surprises

Work breaks average 39 minutes daily


March 27, 2000





Meet the Michigan person who's most likely to be a smoker.


Chances are it's a man. Regardless, it's also highly possible that the person is a baby boomer who may be divorced.


If he or she quits, there's a healthy chance it was cold turkey. And for those who haven't quit, about 39 minutes of each work day is spent on smoke breaks.


These and other details on the smoking habits of Michigan residents were collected by EPIC/MRA, a Lansing research firm, for 17 hospital systems as part of a larger health survey of 1,800 Michigan adults. The data, to be released today, will be used by the hospitals to better understand patients in their geographical areas.


Twenty-one percent of the state's adults are smokers. Twenty-three percent of all men statewide are smokers; 19 percent of women smoke.


One statistic that surprised Lindsey West, head of health promotion at Oakwood Healthcare System in Dearborn, was that smokers typically take three smoking breaks each workday averaging 13 minutes apiece.


If the employee is paid an average of $13 an hour, Michigan employers spend $1.7 billion on employee smoke breaks.


"This may motivate employers to say this is a dramatic problem. Not only is there the health cost impact, but there's a productivity issue," said West, adding that her hospital system may use this statistic when telling employers about its work-site program that aims to help employees quit. Oakwood, Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak and St. John Health System in Detroit are the metro-area hospitals that participated in the survey. EPIC/MRA conducted the random phone survey from Feb. 16 to March 2; it has a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

Twenty-three percent of younger people smoke at nearly the same rate as their parents, the baby boomers, who have a rate of 25 percent. Blacks and whites smoke at the same rate, 21 percent, but for Hispanics, the rate is 39 percent.


The survey found 41 percent of Michigan's current smokers have tried to quit but failed. Twenty-one percent of all adults who used to smoke have kicked the habit. About half of all former smokers -- 49 percent -- quit cold turkey.


The latter point struck Vernice Davis Anthony, senior vice president of community health at St. John Health System in Detroit.


"To me, that says the greatest hurdle for individuals is making up their mind to quit smoking. Once a decision is made, they're probably going to be able to quit," she said.


St. John will likely use the survey results in urging staff to stress the importance of quitting to patients, Anthony said. That includes encouraging patients who unsuccessfully tried to stop to try again.


Detroiter Brenda Adams, 47, has been a smoker for 30 years. Her doctor has told her to quit, she knows she should quit, but so far, she hasn't been able to do it.


"Right now I'm at a point where I used to say I smoke because I enjoy it. I couldn't even say that now," said Adams, who smokes about a pack a day.

Adams said she's not sure what it would take to get her to stop.


She used to think price would motivate her, telling herself she would quit when cigarettes reached $1 a pack. Now they're nearly $4 a pack, but she's still smoking.


The survey found price had the biggest impact in motivating young people ages 25-29 to quit, at 35 percent. The overall survey reported the top reasons people quit are health, 61 percent; family, 10 percent; personal experience, 10 percent, and money, 5 percent.


About 13 percent of all quitters get help through hypnotism, chewing gum, nicotine patches or smoking cessation classes. Just 1 percent of those who quit used a smoking cessation class.


The survey also shows the number of smokers decreases as people age. In the survey, 30- to 40-year-olds are most likely to smoke, at 28 percent. By ages 55 to 64 the number drops to 17 percent, and at 65 or older, it's 11 percent.


Jim Bergman, head of the National Center for Tobacco Free Older Persons in Ann Arbor, said the survey's senior numbers reflect national statistics.

"You on average lose 12 to 15 years of expected life if you're a smoker. So that means a lot of smokers die before they reach 65, reducing the number of smokers as a percent of the population," he said.


The survey suggests the number of adult smokers in Michigan is declining.


A similar survey of adult smokers by the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Survey coordinated by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed Michigan had the fourth highest smoking rate in the country in 1998, at 27.4 percent.


That rate is expected to drop a percentage point or two for 1999, and 2000 numbers won't be available until next year.