Fire fighters face serious risks on the job. They face heat, flames, physical and mental stress, and high levels of carbon monoxide (CO) and other toxic risks in the areas around fires.
Fire fighters face a high risk for many diseases. Fire fighters who smoke are at greater risk. Smoking increases the risk of getting heart disease, cancer, respiratory illnesses, stress, and poorer treatment outcomes for certain diseases, such as hepatitis.
Heart Disease. Heart attacks account for 45% of all work-related deaths among fire fighters. This risk is high during fire fighting itself. It may be caused by heavy work near hot fires, exposure to carbon monoxide, and other stresses associated with the job. Lack of physical fitness, being overweight, and smoking make these risks higher.
Fire fighters who also smoke have a higher risk from CO and other pulmonary risks. High levels of physical and mental stress make the heart need more oxygen, but at the same time, breathing in more CO reduces the amount of oxygen a fire fighter gets. This can cause heart attacks from both coronary artery disease and from abnormal heart rhythms.
Cancer. Fire fighters can come into contact with dangerous, cancer-causing materials when they fight a fire, and the cancer-causing chemicals in tobacco smoke may add to this risk. Fire fighters are at increased risk of getting cancers of the colon, brain, bladder, kidney, and Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Chronic Respiratory Disease The worst impacts of lung illness can strike experienced fire fighters who smoke. Fire fighters are exposed to numerous respiratory risks that can cause permanent lung damage.
Beyond work-related exposure to burning chemical substances, a fire fighter’s cigarettes can be contaminated by the same burning substances. When smoked, the cigarettes can produce these symptoms and cause lung damage.
Hepatitis B and C. Fire fighters are often the first emergency workers to arrive at a fire or a medical emergency. They can then come into contact with blood that may be contaminated with the hepatitis B and C viruses. Smoking adds to the damage from hepatitis.
Stress Fire fighting causes stress.
People under stress smoke more and find it harder to quit.
Fire fighters in New York reported increased smoking after 9/11.
This is consistent with what the Veteran’s Administration has found among military veterans with combat-related stress.