Over the last several decades, smoking rates in the United States have been on a steady decline. But new research shows that of those who continue to smoke cigarettes, many are economically disadvantaged.
Researchers at Colorado School of Public Health at University of Colorado (CU) Anschutz used data from a 2012 national survey and published their findings in the Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved. Of the only 15 percent of Americans who still smoke cigarettes, about 50 to 75 percent of them are considered financially disadvantaged – meaning the poorest people in the country also have the highest smoking rates.
“It’s unusual to find part of the population experiencing high rates of a health problem and also representing the majority of affected people,” study author Arnold Levinson, Associate Professor of community and behavioral health at the Colorado School of Public Health at CU Anschutz, said in a press release. “But with smoking, we have this unusual situation: Americans with lower socioeconomic status today are suffering from epidemic smoking rates, and they make up nearly three-fourths of all our remaining smokers.”
Cigarette manufacturers and distributors have long been criticized for targeting the young and underprivileged. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), close to half a million deaths each year in the United States are linked to cigarette smoking. Smokers are at increased risk of heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease, and lung cancer. This new research shows that the poorest Americans are at highest risk of acquiring these diseases via smoking.
Levinson says the best way to help America’s remaining smokers may be to pivot the approach to quitting.”In the last half-century, public health efforts helped cut the smoking rate by more than half, but we probably need to change our strategies for helping smokers quit,” Levinson said. “The methods that worked for the upper half of society don’t seem to be working well for the other half.”