Information prepared by Judith Anderson, AFA Air, Safety, Health and Security Department (ASHSD)
AFA members are invited to participate in a University of Colorado health study that is intended to assess the health effects of flight attendants’ onboard exposures to second-hand smoke. AFA has reviewed the study and sees no reasons to discourage participation by AFA members. This bulletin gives you the “skinny” to review so that you can decide if you’d like to share the information with your members and invite them to participate.
The study is led by University of Colorado pulmonologist, Dr. Bill Vandivier, and is funded by a Flight Attendant Medical Research Institute (FAMRI) grant. FAMRI was established in 2000 with $300M in funds from a large class action lawsuit against big tobacco that was settled in 1997. The organization funds research to assess the health effects of exposure to tobacco smoke.
The purpose of the study is to compare the (primarily respiratory) health of people in three groups – flight attendants who flew for any length of time before the smoking ban, flight attendants who have flown for any length of time since the smoking ban, and a “control group” of people who have not worked as flight attendants. The intent is for the control group to be made up of family/friends of the flight attendants in the study (esp. friends) because they would have similar life outside of flying. Control group members need to be 50 or older because the flight attendants who flew pre- ban are not expected to be younger than that, and you want a similar age group to control for any effects of age.
Participation involves travel to the University of Colorado clinic in Denver, where participants spend about 3.5 hours completing a series of health and exposure surveys (some of which can be completed in advance, if preferred), plus a physical, lung function, volume, and diffusion (how effectively air moves across the lung wall – measure of oxygen transfer/uptake) tests, and a nasal swab.
A few notes regarding the survey questions: First, there are some questions about potential occupational exposures to chemicals other than second-hand smoke (SHS) such as fuel fumes. That’s to control for the respiratory health impact(s) of those exposures and focus on the effects of SHS. Second, the majority of the health questions ask about respiratory health (to be expected) but some ask about depression/anxiety “in the past 7 days,” cognitive function “in the past 4 weeks,” and whether the person answering the questions is currently taking anti-depressants. AFA asked about the relevance of those mental health/cognitive questions and this was the answer: “The study looks at the long-term effect of secondhand smoke exposure on the development of lung diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD has many effects outside the lung, including increased cardiovascular disease, anxiety, depression and use of health care resources. It also worsens cognition and quality of life. So they ask those questions to have a deeper understanding of the effects of secondhand smoke exposure beyond lung function.” Finally, all personal health information is encrypted and de-identified to ensure confidentiality. Pressed on that last point, the investigators assured AFA that the data collected will not be shared with the airlines under any circumstances.
To defray some travel costs, participants who live in Denver are paid $50, in the Denver area (but not in Denver) $100, and outside of the Denver area the choice of either $100 or a hotel room for a night. The research team has already recruited about 150 people, but they are hoping for 600 (or even more) and want to encourage people to sign up because the larger their sample size, the greater the statistical “power,” which allows them to more reliably answer their research questions.
To sign up, members can call 303-724-6067 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Any more questions, please call or email Judith Anderson – judith@AFAnet.org or 206-932-6237.