As many as one in six working women of child-bearing age in the U.S. are cigarette smokers and numbers vary widely across industries and occupations according to a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health study published in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research.

“We know that smoking while pregnant can have adverse effects on a pregnancy and the health of an infant,” said NIOSH Director John Howard, MD.

This study illustrates the importance of workplace tobacco cessation programs, especially in industries and occupations where we see more women who smoke, to help reduce tobacco use and improve the health of women and their unborn children.”

For the study, researchers analyzed data from the 2009–2013 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS).

To determine national estimates on the prevalence of cigarette smoking among women who work—specifically those of reproductive age—they looked at the cigarette smoking behavior of nearly 44.7 million women between the ages of 18 and 49 who worked in the week before the interview.

Among the working women, just over 17% reported being current cigarette smokers; of these, 76% were daily smokers. Less than half of daily smoking women had tried to quit within the previous year. Approximately 13% of working women were former smokers.

Of the women who were pregnant at the time of the survey, nearly 7% were current cigarette smokers.
An estimated 1.2 million (2.8%) working women were pregnant at the time of the interview. Of the women who were pregnant at the time of the survey, nearly 7% were current cigarette smokers and more than half of those women reported smoking cigarettes daily.

Industry Breakdown

Researchers also found higher smoking prevalence in women working in certain industries and occupations.

The industries that had the highest prevalence of women who smoke included construction and accommodation and food services; up to one-third of women in these industries reported being a current smoker.

Women working as educators or librarians were the least likely to smoke.

“The knowledge from this study can be used to develop educational campaigns and tobacco cessation programs aimed specifically at women in industries and occupations where many women are still smokers,” said epidemiologist and lead author Jacek Mazurek, MS, MD, PhD.

The authors underscore that “In areas without smoke-free laws, smoke-free workplace policies, and workplace cessation programs are important tools to help reduce tobacco use among workers.”