Smoking and Poverty
Tobacco has a long history as a farming crop starting 8,000 years ago and is still one of the most important cash crops in North and South America. In the 17th century, tobacco products grew heavily through the mass marketing of cigarettes, adding in over 7,350 chemical compounds that risk cancer, cardiovascular disease, and heart disease. Smoking increased during both the World Wars as cigarettes were freely given to the troops as a “morale booster.”
After learning about the negative health effects, since 1964 cigarette smoking among U.S. adults has reduced by more than half. However, people living in poverty smoke cigarettes for nearly twice as many years as people with a family income at 300% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. Even after new regulations require tobacco companies to provide commercials and billboards stating the possible negative health effects of using cigarettes, prices are kept low and cigarettes are seen as a more affordable recreational activity for low-income individuals. Within the past 60 years, tobacco marketing efforts have included handing out free cigarettes in government housing projects and issuing coupons for cigarettes with food stamps. There are more tobacco retailers located in the low-income areas which target these vulnerable communities through point of sale promotions, discounts, and product displays behind the check-out counters.
Nearly 32% of adults without a high school diploma and 50% of adults who earned a General Education Diploma (GED) use tobacco every day compared to just 10% of adults with an undergraduate degree and 6% with a graduate degree. Traditionally, those with lower educational achievements experience poverty at a significantly higher rate than those with advanced degrees. Although people with low-income have access to health care, they are more likely to lag behind those in the middle class in their access to effective smoking cessation treatments. They also may face challenges in accessing care for co-occurring mental health problems (i.e. depression) which make quitting smoking more difficult.
Smoking has become an issue of socioeconomic status affecting those living in poverty at a significantly higher level than those more financially stable. At United Against Poverty, we are exploring education opportunities for smoking cessation programs and ways to encourage our members to put down their cigarettes for a healthier life both physically and financially.