Smoking is a habit that can cause serious physical health problems, and people who smoke often find it very difficult to stop. Understanding the factors that contribute to smoking may help professionals design more effective smoking cessation programs. One of the factors that is believed to influence smoking rates is discrimination. Specifically, individuals who perceive they are mistreated or discriminated against tend to have higher rates of smoking than those who report little to no discrimination. Additionally, people of lower socioeconomic status have higher rates of smoking than more affluent individuals. Taken together, these data raise questions about the relationship between discrimination, stressful life conditions, and smoking among minority populations.
Jason Q. Purnell, Ph.D. of the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, sought to answer these questions in a recent study. Purnell analyzed data from a larger behavioral study conducted between 2004 and 2008. He examined the data for incidents of discrimination, environments in which the discrimination took place, psychological stress, and rates of smoking among the participants. Purnell found that individuals who believed they were being discriminated against had higher rates of smoking than those who did not, regardless of their ethnicity.
The results of the study demonstrated that the environment in which discrimination occurs, in particular workplace environments or health-care settings, had different effects on smoking. People who felt discriminated against in the workplace were more likely to be smokers than those who experienced health-care discrimination. Purnell also found that the stress that resulted from perceived discrimination increased the likelihood of smoking. This finding suggests that some individuals may use smoking as a way to relieve the psychological stress caused by perceived discrimination. He said the findings suggest that working with clients on alternative ways of coping with discrimination may be useful in counseling programs to help individuals quit smoking.
Purnell, J. Q., Peppone, L. J., Alcaraz, K., McQueen, A., Guido, J. J. (2012). Perceived discrimination, psychological distress, and current smoking status: Results from the behavioral risk factor surveillance system reactions to race module, 2004-2008. American Journal of Public Health 102.5, 844-851.
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