By Jane Jerrard
Firefighters across America—and especially in Pennsylvania—are getting some hardcore help kicking the tobacco habit. Thanks to a smoking cessation program introduced by the International Association of Fire Firefighters (IAFF), and picked up in June by the Pennsylvania Professional Fire Fighters Association (PPFFA), any firefighter who smokes can get help with quitting—help that’s professionally designed and proven to work.
Earlier this year, the PPFFA decided to adopt the smoking cessation program that the IAFF already has in place: “The IAFF introduced the program on an international level, and we adopted it,” explains Art Martynuska, president of PPFFA. “I believe we’re the first state union of any kind—in any industry—to do something like this.”
The IAFF teamed up with Pfizer pharmaceutical company for the program, and the PPFFA has followed suit. “We’re attempting to be proactive in our approach to the safety of our members,” Martynuska says. “Through Pfizer, we have a multimedia program that includes peer support.” Pfizer provides resources including the actual smoking cessation prescriptions such as nicotine patches and gum. The smoking cessation program is customizable—it basically offers whatever each individual smoker needs to quit. This includes information, peer support and pharmaceuticals.
“The local will actually work with individuals; we’re going to disseminate the materials they need,” Martynuska stresses.
The state association is currently gathering data on smokers. “We’re in the process of attaining demographic information on our approximately 60 locals through a number of different survey instruments,” Martynuska says, adding that people can reply anonymously, but they’ll know what local they’re in. “Then we’ll target individuals for the program,” he says. In June, the survey was going through internal review to ensure that it meets legal standards, Martynuska says. “That’s one reason that it’s great to be working with Pfizer—they have the resources we don’t have.”
IAFF Broke the Ground
The IAFF’s current smoking cessation program was introduced in October 2007, but the organization has participated in similar successful programs.
“We’ve worked on lots of smoking cessation programs in the past 10 years,” says Rich Duffy, assistant to the IAFF’s general president. “For example, the Indianapolis Fire Department went completely tobacco-free under a program we had with GlaxoSmithKline.” That program, the “Tobacco Free in IFD” campaign, took place in 2001. Immediately after that, the IAFF tackled reducing the increased number of smokers among FDNY firefighters after Sept. 11. “The interesting thing is that many of those were first-time cigarette smokers,” Duffy recalls. “We worked on a program up there with a division of Pfizer that was enormously successful; it was effective in having firefighters quit smoking, and in helping them stay off cigarettes.”
Why do these programs work? “Part of the success is that these programs treat tobacco use as what it is: an addiction,” Duffy says. “We offer help with that.”
As for the program now offered in partnership with Pfizer, Duffy says, “The current program offers new tools—and they’re important.” He adds, “We push this in everything we’ve done. We encourage it in our communications to locals and to state associations like Pennsylvania’s.”
Duffy points to non-smoking initiatives, where departments and even state associations are instituting policies that prohibit hiring applicants who smoke. “Pennsylvania is taking [smoking cessation] a step further,” he points out. “In Florida and Massachusetts, [state associations are] addressing new hires only. Pennsylvania is addressing everyone out there. They want to be a smoke-free industry in that state. That’s commendable.”
The health of Pennsylvania firefighters is also the focus of some pending legislation: State Representative Kevin Murphy (D-Lackawanna) co-sponsored H.B. 1231, which amends the state’s Workers’ Compensation Act to include cancer in the occupation of firefighters as an occupational disease.
“Cancer is obviously an occupational disease for firefighters,” Murphy says. “There is a direct correlation, and we have a responsibility to take care of people who are harmed while on the job. This is not only a moral obligation, it’s a fact.” Murphy jumped to co-sponsor the bill this year after losing a close friend who was a firefighter to kidney cancer. “My goal is to get this passed,” he says. “The goal is to have substantive language that protects firefighters if they get cancer.”
Martynuska believes the PPFFA’s smoking cessation program dovetails with this new focus on firefighter cancer. “We want to show that we have a commitment to being proactive about firefighter health and safety,” he says.
Between the state legislation and the PPFFA’s smoking cessation program, Pennsylvania firefighters are enjoying some healthy attention. Any smoker or department interested in learning more about how to quit can visit the IAFF Web site at www.iaff.org/smokefree
Jane Jerrard is a freelance writer living in Chicago.
Cancer as an Occupational Disease
Pennsylvania’s H.B. 1231 proposed to change the state’s current Workers’ Compensation Act to specifically include cancer as an occupational disease for firefighters. Here is the language used in the current bill:
The term “occupational disease,” as used in this act, shall mean only the following diseases.
(r) Cancer, resulting in either temporary or permanent total or partial disability or death, after four years or more of service in firefighting for the benefit or safety of the public, affecting the skin or the central nervous, lymphatic, digestive, hematological, urinary, skeletal, oral, breast, testicular, genitourinary, liver or prostate systems, as well as any condition of cancer that may result from exposure to heat or radiation or to a known or suspected carcinogen as determined by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, arising directly out of the employment of any such firefighter.
Section 2. Section 301(c) of the act is amended by adding a paragraph to read:
(3) The limitations of paragraph (2) shall not apply in the case of cancer in the occupation of firefighter. The employer shall have the burden of proving that the firefighter’s occupation was not a major contributing cause of the firefighter's cancer.