Smoking and degree of occupational exposure: are internal analyses in cohort studies likely to be confounded by smoking status?

Am J Ind Med. 1988;13(1):59-69. doi: 10.1002/ajim.4700130105.


Occupational cohort studies are usually carried out without the benefit of information on smoking habits of cohort members. One common approach to avoid confounding bias related to smoking habits is to carry out an internal analysis, comparing workers with different degrees of occupational exposure. The premise behind this approach is that within a cohort there is unlikely to be correlation between degree of exposure and smoking habits. If this were untrue, smoking could confound the disease-exposure relationships. Our purpose was to verify the premise. The study sample consisted of 857 French-Canadian men born between 1910 and 1930, with 11 or fewer years of education, and interviewed around 1980 in the context of an occupational cancer case-control study. For each man we had information on smoking habits, job history, and a history of the chemicals he was exposed to in each of his jobs. We computed two indices of the dirtiness of workers' job histories: one based on the job titles held by the man and a second based on the degree of exposures to workplace substances. There was no correlation between these indices of job dirtiness and smoking history. We also examined the smoking-exposure relationship among the subsets of men who had been occupationally exposed to ten especially noticeable substances. Within the subsets, there was no indication of a consistent difference among the smoking subgroups in level or duration of exposure to these index substances. These findings do not support the view that nonsmokers sought out cleaner job environments than smokers; they imply that internal analyses of "dose-response" in cohort studies are unlikely to be seriously confounded by smoking habits.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Environmental Exposure*
  • Epidemiologic Methods*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / chemically induced
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Occupational Diseases / chemically induced
  • Occupational Diseases / epidemiology
  • Occupations / classification
  • Quebec
  • Smoking / epidemiology*