Smoking has been declining in America, except in low-income communities. While years of warnings against smoking’s effects, quitting programs, and anti-smoking campaigns have been effective for many smokers, it hasn’t been successful in certain populations. Among the top populations affected by cigarette use are adults that did not graduate high school, those making less than $35,000 yearly, uninsured individuals, and people in public housing. All of these are common characteristics of low-income community residents.
Despite the country’s efforts to eliminate smoking, how come this population has been left behind? Read more to find out why—and learn more about possible solutions available to fix that problem today:
The state of smoking in low-income communities
A study on community social environments and cigarette smoking reveals that over 60% of smokers only have a GED, high school, or less education, and over a quarter live below the poverty line. This lack of education can hinder them from fully understanding the consequences of the habit, including the development of chronic diseases like lung cancer.
Compared to suburban areas, low-income neighborhoods also lack security features and are less socially cohesive, making crimes more common. The added possibility of experiencing power shortages and limited access to necessities like safe drinking water serve as factors that contribute to residents’ stress levels. This gives rise to potentially unhealthy behaviors, including smoking, to deal with negative emotions.
Finally, smoking in low-income communities can largely be attributed to big tobacco companies. Since raising the price of cigarettes keeps people from smoking, these businesses intentionally keep prices low. That way, cigarettes are more affordable to people in these communities who use them as a respite from daily stress.
Fortunately, many solutions are now available to address smoking’s prevalence in these communities. Here are a few Smoking solutions for low-income communities:
Free smoking quitlines
Quitlines connect smokers with a professional coach who will help them devise a personal plan to stop the habit. This will consider their past experience and the type of help they want (like receiving support from a group). Quitlines also provide free smoking cessation aids to eligible callers, including medicines and nicotine products.
The service is free, confidential, and available nationwide. The national quitline can be accessed by calling 1-800-QUIT-NOW or going to quitline.com.
Accessible nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) products
NRT provides people with nicotine products, helping them deal with cigarette cravings as they quit. Common NRT products include nicotine pouches and patches.
Nicotine pouches are oral products bought in convenience stores and online stores, making them accessible to low-income individuals. Additionally, pouches can last long if stored properly, so people get their money’s worth at $3.50 for 20 pouches, compared to a 20-cigarette pack costing $7.22. Despite this, many might ask: do nicotine pouches expire? Prilla notes that pouches can last for up to two years as long as you store them properly. Simply put the pouches in a cool, dry place and avoid buying moist pouch types.
Meanwhile, nicotine patches stick to the skin for up to 24 hours, so they don’t require frequent replacements. They can be purchased from retailers like Walgreens, while some state quitlines—like Vermont—offer them for free. Still, some might be concerned about how these usually retail for $40. Drugs.com’s discussion on nicotine patches reveals that ex-smokers can save $1,000 yearly. That means in a span of two weeks, a person who smokes one pack daily will spend around $103, while a nicotine patch pack will only cost $46.
Healthcare coalitions improve communities’ safety and response to certain health risks, including smoking. Many coalitions are working locally to address specific health issues in different neighborhoods. Some of them specifically tackle smoking in low-income communities.
In South Seattle, the Healthy King County Coalition is helping communities known for their high use of e-cigarettes. To combat this, it set up multiple billboards in several South Seattle and South King County neighborhoods and established a web campaign called “Don’t Be Fooled" to make information about e-cigarettes' dangers more accessible.
On the other hand, the Tobacco Free Coalition provides smoking cessation classes and counseling. It also holds the annual “DC Calls It Quits! Week,” where residents can experience attending informative sessions and activities about the importance of quitting smoking.
Smoking in low-income communities is common, but it doesn't have to be moving forward. Today, there are more accessible solutions that can help effectively solve the issue of high smoking prevalence in these neighborhoods.