With smoking banned in so many public spaces, it’s easy to think this unhealthy habit isn’t such a problem anymore.
And you wouldn't be completely wrong. Only 17% of people in the United States reported being smokers in 2014, compared to 42% of people in 1965. It's even down among teens. According to a recent report, only 11% of high schoolers smoked cigarettes once in the past month, and just 2.3% said they smoke daily.
It's possible this dip can be attributed to more smoking bans, increased taxes on tobacco products, and a heightened awareness of the dangers of nicotine.
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But just because it’s less popular doesn’t mean it isn’t still a huge problem.
It’s still considered the leading cause of preventable death in the US, responsible for 438,000 deaths each year, according to the American Lung Association. And while that's obviously one of the biggest reasons to quit, there are so many other reasons that people choose not to.
To understand what’s really motivating people to keep on smoking, BuzzFeed Health spoke to behavioral scientist Scott Leischow, PhD, professor of health services research at the Mayo Clinic, and smoking cessation researcher Dr. Diana Stewart Hoover, assistant professor in the Department of Health Disparities Research at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Here are the primary factors that contribute to smoking's hold on America.
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Poverty is one of the biggest predictors of smoking.
“When we look at the prevalence of smoking, the prevalence tends to be highest in the lowest income groups,” Leischow told BuzzFeed Health. “It’s really regressive in the sense that you've got people who can least afford to buy cigarettes having the highest prevalence.”
It’s true: 26% of people who live below the federal poverty level smoke cigarettes, compared to 15% who live above it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The confounding variable here is most likely stress, Hoover told BuzzFeed Health.
Tobacco companies are aware of this and often focus their marketing efforts on poorer neighborhoods, with price promotions and an abundance of stores that carry cigarettes, says Hoover.
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Peer pressure — or societal pressure, at least — still exists.
Smoking is simply more accepted in certain environments. While corporate companies and office buildings usually discourage smoking, that's not necessarily the case for people who work independently or outside, says Leischow. “That’s one of the challenges; how do we go about increasing the notion that smoking is not encouraged across all different strata of society?”
He pointed to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, which has begun providing smoke-free multi-family housing to low-income families in hopes of reducing exposure to secondhand smoke — something that Leischow says may help to change the social norm for the next generation.
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