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Low Income/Education

Socioeconomic Status:

The Single Greatest Predictor of Tobacco

Social and economic factors influence a broad array of opportunities, exposures, decisions and behaviors that promote or threaten health. Although there are many factors contributing to predicted tobacco use, socioeconomic status is the single greatest predictor. Tobacco and poverty create a vicious cycle: low income people smoke more, suffer more, spend more, and die more from tobacco use.

Low social-economic status populations include low-income individuals with less than 12 years of education, the medically underserved, the unemployed, and the working poor. They can also be prisoners, gays and lesbians, blue collar workers, and the mentally ill.

Challenges of Low Socioeconomic Status

A study conducted by the National Network of Smoking Prevention and Poverty found that cigarettes served as a tool for those of low socioeconomic status to cope with boredom, relieve stress and as a companion to alcohol and caffeine. Cigarettes served as a loyal “friend” – a theme recognizable from cigarette advertising. Other results of the studies conducted on this population included:

There are other factors unique to this community that prohibit prevention. Education materials may not be culturally or linguistically appropriate for this segment, and often members of this population live in communities where tobacco advertising is more prominent. Those who work in manufacturing, construction, or transportation are more likely to be exposed to secondhand smoke at work. Also, quitting occurs less often in this segment, and when individuals do quit they are more likely to relapse, a fact not helped by the fact that smoking may be considered the norm among family and peers. And, for many members of this population, smoking simply meets a need that cannot be met with something else.

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One of the greatest risks in tobacco prevention is smoking during pregnancy. This risk leaves pregnant mothers of low socioeconomic status seriously exposed. Smoking rates skyrocket for women with lower levels of education and of lower income brackets. Furthermore, studies now indicate exposure of babies to air and dust in a smoker’s home, residue on clothes, rugs, and walls in the home, even when parents don’t smoke around the child, pointing up the importance of smoke-free homes and cars.

Find out how pregnant mothers can benefit from brief interventions at out Provider page.

The Homeless

As many as 700,000 people are homeless on any given night. The homeless population is heavily represented by the mentally ill, over half have drug or alcohol dependency, and a disproportionate amount of homeless are ethnic minorities.

Homelessness makes people exceedingly susceptible to smoking. Studies suggest that between 70 – 99% of homeless adults smoke. The homeless experience high stress, and feel vulnerable, overwhelmed and helpless. Also, mental illness and chemical dependency can increase susceptibility to marketing efforts that suggest that tobacco can help them cope.

Hand-rolled cigarettes without filters, using recycled tobacco from butts, and group smoking can increase the dangers of each cigarette smoked, further endangering the health of this vulnerable population. The hazardous consequences of these behaviors can be seen in the dramatic increase in throat and mouth cancer of homeless people.

For more information about socioeconomic hardships and smoking read the Low Income/Education Fact Sheet and the Homeless Fact Sheet.

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