Op-ed pick: Why the poor smoke cigarettes

The federal government released new numbers about America’s cigarette habit earlier this week. Not surprisingly, we still smoke a lot and it’s still a leading cause of disease and death in the United States. But when the New York Times dug into the data, a new pattern emerged:

[The study] found that affluent counties across the nation have experienced the biggest, and fastest, declines in smoking rates, while progress in the poorest ones has stagnated. The findings are particularly stark for women: About half of all high-income counties showed significant declines in the smoking rate for women, but only 4 percent of poor counties did, the analysis found.

This growing gap in smoking rates between rich and poor is helping drive inequality in health outcomes, experts say, with, for example, white women on the lowest rungs of the economic ladder now living shorter lives.

So why are the poorest Americans smoking more than the middle- and upper-class?

Megan Sandel and Renée Boynton-Jarrett, doctors at the Boston University School of Medicine, wrote for CNN that advertising that targets the poor is partly to blame. But so is the chronic stress of poverty.

…Economic hardships, such as hunger, unstable housing and problems keeping the heat on are stressful and unhealthy for children. And childhood adversity is linked to unhealthy behaviors later, particularly to smoking. A Duke University study found that “worries about paying bills or needing to sell possessions for cash independently erode a child’s self-control, regardless of strong parenting.” That lack of self-control often leads to smoking.

Read their entire column here.