Do Socioeconomic Status and Race Increase Risk of Smoking?

Despite clear warnings about the dangers of smoking, nearly 20% of adults continue to smoke. Smoking cessation programs focus on decreasing cravings, changing behaviors, and changing beliefs about smoking through education, support groups, and other approaches. Some of the factors that have been explored in relation to smoking are socioeconomic status, racial diversity, and gender.

To get a closer look at how these factors affect smoking cessation and smoking behavior, Diana W. Steward, PhD, of the Department of Health Disparities Research at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, recently led a study involving 402 racially diverse individuals from low socioeconomic environments. Stewart looked at health literacy, addiction to nicotine, perception of risk, self-efficacy, cessation expectations, and motivation to quit smoking.

She found that the participants with low health education and literacy had higher levels of dependence on nicotine and had fewer negative beliefs about smoking. In other words, the less they knew about the risks, the less they thought smoking could be potentially harmful. Further, Stewart also found that these associations persisted despite any variances in race or socioeconomic levels.

In sum, these findings provide evidence of a link between health literacy and smoking. Additionally, they clearly demonstrate that people who are not well educated in the risks related to smoking may not fully believe these risks to be real. This perception increases their smoking and nicotine dependency and contributes to higher rates of smoking-related illnesses.

Stewart hopes that the results of this study shed new light on the smoking cessation challenges facing racially diverse low socioeconomic individuals. She said, “Research is needed to investigate potential mechanisms underlying this relationship.” Stewart added that approaches that increase education accessibility about smoking and the dangers of smoking could help to motivate more smoking cessation efforts in this segment of the population and those most at risk.

Stewart, Diana W., PhD, et al. (2013). Associations between health literacy and established predictors of smoking cessation. American Journal of Public Health 103.7 (2013): E43-9. ProQuest. Web.

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  • Valerie


    August 13th, 2013 at 10:45 AM

    Do you think that it’s that people still don’t know what a danger smoking causes, or that by the time they realize this, the addiction is already there and it is too late to stop? I know that when I was a kid there was no real message out there about how dangerous smoking was and there was always this element of coolness to the kids who smoked so I picked it up too. It wasn’t until much later on that I started to see the dangers and the health risks that are associated with smoking but by that time you know it’s too late to be able to quit without a whole lot of issues! I just happen to think that the word has to be preached from the word go, otherwise we are always going to end up with young kids picking up the habit early and often.

  • gavin


    August 13th, 2013 at 12:47 PM

    so often it is the weakest that are the most vulnerable…low socioeconomic status and high smoking risks…now that’s a double danger in my view!this is a segment of the populace that really needs some education in this regard and fast. more young people are picking it up with each passing day and the more we spread the word the better we are doing and the more we are helping!

  • Stover M

    Stover M

    August 14th, 2013 at 4:15 AM

    I do wonder though since cigarettes have become so expensive (so much more expensive that they used to be!) how some people in these lower socioeconomic standings can even afford to continue to smoke. I have friends who smoke and when they tell me how much per week they spend, it is shocking, and they make pretty good money. I would hate to think that I had to seriously budget for something that I am just in essence going to set on fire and puff away at and it is then gone within five minutes.

  • Mills


    August 15th, 2013 at 4:32 AM

    This is a form of escape for some. Just like with drinking and other drugs this is a coping mechanism when nothing else has ever been learned. When they see this in the home of their own parents then of course this is behavior that they are then going to emulate as they get older,

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