New data suggests that whilst smoking is becoming increasingly divided between rich and poor. It is ceasing to be a problem in affluent regions, while in places where poverty is on the rise, people are finding it harder to quit. There is a dividing factor in these areas, the wealth and education of the inhabitants. Rich areas with higher levels of education have found kicking the habit easy, whereas it has become more firmly entrenched in poorer, lower decile places.
Smoking is no longer considered to be the luxury it once was. Cigarettes were the must have accessory for all movie stars, politicians puffed away and everywhere high society men and women followed suit. Cigarettes were as varied and exotic as liquor. Turkish, Egyptian and French brands exuded a sense of beauty, a high standard of living. In World War Two, cigarettes were part of packages sent to “our boys” in the trenches and by 1960, 42 percent of all Americans were smokers. Smoking was as ubiquitous as a cup of coffee in the morning.
However, as the damaging health effects became known, smoking declined. Young people, some of whom had grown up with smoking parents, did not start-up the habit and many long-term smokers benefited from new quitting aids; nicotine patches, gum and Allen Carr’s The Easy way to Stop Smoking helped them to kick the habit.
But smoking is still a popular habit with the working class. This fact has already been established, but a study published by the journal, Population Health Metric,s shows new information. Although smoking is decreasing in all areas, the divide between areas of richer economic growth and those in poorer areas is widening. Those in regions with lower economic standing are still smoking, despite in some cases, having friends who have passed away from smoking related diseases like lung cancer. In the wealthy neighbourhoods of Washington about one in ten people smoke, but in the southern counties like Clay County in Kentucky, it is around one in four.
The study showed that whilst there is a decline in smoking across America, there was still a divide with “pockets” of higher levels of smokers between areas where the habit has been dropped. The report is in alliance with previous studies that show the prevalence to smoke is based around economic status, low levels of education and those areas with high rates of Native Americans and Alaska Natives. Consequently, the more affluent areas with higher levels of education and Mexican immigrants are less likely to begin the habit. The conclusions drawn were that a more nationwide focus is needed to help with smoking cessation. These include implementing quitline interventions, smoke free areas and bans on smoking related activities as well as increasing taxes on cigarettes and a mass-media campaign. As smoking leaves the big cities and richer areas, it is believed that the race is won, but it is not so and work needs to be done to refocus the fight towards these areas of poorer standing.
“Public health is local” is the conclusion that comes out of this. Smoking is still a problem in poorer areas and they need support to get on top of it, rather than have it seen as something out of sight, out of mind as it decreases in richer parts. Smoking was once the fancy of the rich, but it has now been a life choice for the poor. This is a problem that should not sit divided between the degree toting rich and the low standing poor, everyone should be on the same side.
By Sara Watson