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Social Circumstances Greatly Influence Smoking

Update Date: Sep 12, 2013 02:53 PM EDT

Smoking is the leading cause of preventable deaths in the United States and one of the leading causes of premature deaths throughout the world. Due to the fact that smoking leads to so many health conditions and medical costs, helping smokers quit and preventing adolescents from starting the habit are two very important goals throughout the world. In a new study, researchers examined the role of social circumstances on smoking. Several studies in the past have found that peer pressure during middle and high school could greatly influence children to try smoking and even pick up the habit daily. In this new study, researchers from the University of Otago, Wellington, found that better social circumstances that arise from an increased in income could influence people to smoke.

The research team headed by Professor Tony Blakely and colleagues from the university looked at young people between the ages of 15 and 24. The team analyzed data from a previous study conducted from 2004 to 2009. This study surveyed the smoking behaviors of 11,000 people from New Zealand. In Blakely's study, he discovered that certain changes in people's social circumstances could influence their likelihood of picking up the habit.

The team reported that increasing deprivation, whether it is personal or environmental, could increase one's likelihood of smoking. They calculated that people who moved from a neighborhood that was considered to be the least deprived fifth of New Zealand to a neighborhood that was considered to be the most deprived fifth of the country resulted in an increased chance of smoking by 83 percent. Ironically, the study also discovered that an increased in income for people in the age group of 15 to 24 also resulted in a higher likelihood of smoking. The researchers calculated that doubling one's income led to a 28 percent increased risk of smoking.

"Worsening social circumstances makes you more likely to smoke," Blakely explained according to Medical Xpress. "We know that giving teenagers more pocket money increases their likelihood of smoking. We also know that increasing the price of tobacco through tax decreases smoking. So it is not surprising when you think about tic that increasing incomes among young adults increases smoking risk. But, this runs counter to a simple 'social causation of disease' model that suggests improvement in social circumstances will always improve health - it doesn't."

The researchers believe that more aggressive tobacco policies will need to be created to find a way to lower teenagers' risk of smoking. They suggested increasing taxes on both cigarettes and alcohol, enforcing fully smokefree venues and lifting the minimum age of purchasing cigarettes.

This study was published in Tobacco Control.

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