Faculty voice:

Seung Hee Choi: No ifs, ands or buts

May 6, 2015

Seung Hee Choi is an assistant professor in the MSU College of Nursing whose research interests include: tobacco use, smoking cessation, risky health behaviors and quality of life.

There’s no ifs, ands or cigarette butts about it – smoking stinks. I knew this before I entered the nursing field, but this concept became even more evident when I did my dissertation. This project was my first foray into research and it involved smoking among blue-collar workers who operate heavy equipment.

An estimated 340,000 people nationwide are employed as operating engineers, driving equipment such as bulldozers on construction sites. Workplace smoking ban legislation doesn’t affect these individuals, because they work outdoors. The work itself is sedentary, sitting or driving most of the day.

So this is what I learned…

If. . .

  • people work on outdoor construction sites, 28 percent of them are smokers, a rate higher than the general population rate of 19 percent.
  • those workers want to quit, they’ll find that their success rate is much lower than the general population.

And. . .

  • overall, 92 percent of smokers are more likely to engage in multiple risky health behaviors.
  • not one operating engineer met healthy lifestyle standards. In fact, 9 out of 10 study participants reported excessive drinking and/or lack of physical activity.
  • Fifty percent of operating engineers who smoke live with other people who smoke.

But. . . there’s hope.

  • Effective tailored interventions have the potential to not only stop smoking, but also improve overall health and quality of life for these workers.

My work as an intensive care nurse helped me become interested in health behaviors as I observed recovering cardiac patients struggle with the need to quit smoking. It was through this experience that I became passionate about protecting and improving health of working Americans. Now I’m an assistant professor in the College of Nursing and I’m dedicated to continuing on this research path in order to create health interventions that address “Bundled Health Behaviors” of operating engineers.

The relationship of smoking to other health issues in this population reflects this “Bundled Health Behaviors” concept, which was originally presented in 2009 at an NIH meeting on the Science of Behavior Change. Two or more combined risky health behaviors have been shown to result in much higher risk for developing chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease or cancer. This suggests that it is more beneficial to design and implement multiple health behavior interventions addressing more than two risky behaviors simultaneously.

I know that nursing research is the best approach to solving the smoking epidemic because we focus on changing health behaviors. While most smoking cessation programs target white-collar workers in an indoor setting, it’s this blue-collar population that needs the most interventions designed to address their specific challenges.

Researching this health threat and finding solutions that positively affect the lives of these workers has become my mantra. I look forward to helping shape a better tomorrow for them.