According to a study by The Population Health Metrics, people living in poor neighborhoods are more prone to smoke at higher rates than those living in wealthier communities. An estimated 25% of adults with less than 12 years of education smoke cigarettes.
One survey shows that most people living in poverty want to quit smoking, but unfortunately it’s not as simple as “just quitting”.
Tobacco companies have been proven to promote smoking in lower income communities by lowering the price of cigarettes and flooding the neighborhoods with cigarette advertisements. In some cities, like Philadelphia, one can buy cigarettes for about $5 without tax.
The director of policy and planning for the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, Giridhar Mallya, stated that those living in poverty smoke to comfort his or her depression and stress.
For some, smoking is not just a coping method, but also a survival method. Lindell Harvey of Crum Lynne, Delaware smokes when he has run out of food.
Smoking enables the body to fend off the feeling of hunger. In Camden, New Jersey, 51-year-old Elaine Styles, a day-care worker who was laid-off, smokes so she doesn’t feel like she has to eat, “I make sure my family eats, then I have a loosie and go to bed.” A loosie is a single cigarette sold for about 50 cents.
Many wonder though, how do people living in poverty afford such an expensive habit? Buying cigarettes in low-income neighborhoods costs an estimated $1,000 a year with approximately 14% of income spent on cigarettes a year.
Nicotine triggers the part of the brain stem that causes one to feel comfort and safety. There are reasons behind the addiction that make sense once the dynamics of poverty are taken into account: the hopelessness of feeling trapped and the “limited sense of having a future,” says Elijah Anders, a Yale University sociologist.
There is hope for the future, though. Rates of smoking have dropped about seven percent between 2004 and 2012, with lower rates of teen smoking and a decline in adult smoking.
With more focus on poverty issues, the numbers are expected to steadily drop within the next few years.
– Becka Felcon