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WASHINGTON (AP) – Labor unions and anti-smoking groups are forming a new partnership, responding to studies showing that more blue-collar workers smoke than white-collar workers.

Anti-smoking efforts in the United States largely have been targeted toward professionals and higher-income employees, who have seen a decline in tobacco use while “other workers have been left behind,” said Elizabeth Barbeau, director of the new Consortium on Organized Labor and Tobacco Control.

Among smokers, 36 percent are craft workers and laborers, 32 percent are service workers and 21 percent are white-collar workers, according to a 1997 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Blue-collar workers also are heavier smokers and started smoking at an earlier age than white-collar workers.

The new group is being created with a $1.6 million grant from the American Legacy Foundation, a nonprofit anti-tobacco organization formed in 1999 with funds from a lawsuit by 46 states against the tobacco industry.

The group will conduct research and work with unions to reduce smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke among lower-wage workers. The partnership also includes Harvard Medical School’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the University of Massachusetts at Lowell.

The first project will be an anti-smoking campaign targeted at young workers through unions’ training and apprenticeship programs.

Union members need to know that “smoking cannot only ruin your heath, but shorten your career,” said Terence O’Sullivan, general president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America.

Other unions involved are the Building and Construction Trades Council of California, the National Education Association and the Professional Fire Fighters.

Organized labor is “an important untapped resource” for anti-smoking efforts, a 2000 study in the American Journal of Public Health said.

“Despite their potential for an influential role, many unions have apparently remained on the sidelines of work site tobacco control policies,” the study said.

Less than a third of blue-collar workers and slightly more than a third of service employees work in a smoke-free environment, compared with more than half of white-collar workers, according to a 1997 National Cancer Institute study.

Lower-wage workers tend to have less access to programs designed to get them to quit smoking. They also have been targeted more by the tobacco industry, said Cheryl Healton, president and chief executive of the American Legacy Foundation.

Think of the Marlboro Man and Joe Camel. Big tobacco also has tried to make smoking a workers’ rights issue, Healton said.

“If you think of some of the imagery that you see in advertising, you can read into who is the target,” she said. “There is no question this is an important segment for the industry.”

Unions tried to take on the tobacco industry with more than a dozen lawsuits in 1997, seeking billions of dollars to recover the costs of treating sick smokers. Unions claimed that the industry targeted blue-collar workers in advertising. But tobacco companies denied the charges and those lawsuits were largely unsuccessful.

Copyright © 2001, Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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