AURORA, Colo. — The number of people who smoke cigarettes has dropped dramatically in recent years as cities and states continues to issue bans on smoking in many public places and even private places. A new study examining the few Americans who are still smokers discovered that most have a lower socioeconomic status.
Using data obtained from a nationwide survey conducted in 2012, researchers at the Colorado School of Public Health at CU Anschutz were able to determine that half to three-fourths of remaining smokers lack a college education or health insurance, are low income, or possess a disability.
In other words, most smokers comprise the least advantaged segments of American society.
“It’s unusual to find part of the population experiencing high rates of a health problem and also representing the majority of affected people,” says Arnold Levinson, the study’s lead author, in a news 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.”
About 36 million Americans are smokers, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2015, which equates to about 15% of the U.S. adult population. That’s a major decline from ten years earlier when about 21% of the population smoked. Still, quitting as almost anyone knows, is difficult.
This inquiry reveals how the desire to quit is not dependent upon socioeconomic status. Rather, smokers of a lesser socioeconomic status are simply less likely to succeed in their efforts to quit.
“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 says. “The methods that worked for the upper half of society don’t seem to be working well for the other half.”
According to the CDC, about 480,000 premature deaths a year — or one-fifth of the total — are due to cigarette smoking.
The study was published in the Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved.