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Economic Stress Causes People Smoke More, Quit Less

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

With the country in a recession and the holiday season underway, financial stress is pushing some people toward unhealthy habits. A survey by the American Legacy Foundation found that 77 percent of current smokers report increased stress levels over the national economy. Stress is impacting smoking behavior by causing some to delay a quit attempt, increase the number of cigarettes smoked, or switch to a cheaper brand instead of quitting. Some former smokers report they’re starting to smoke again due to stress over the financial situation.

In Washington, quit coaches at the state Tobacco Quit Line (1-800-QUIT-NOW, or in Spanish, 1-877-2NO-FUME) say callers often report they smoke because they’re stressed. To help people overcome personal smoking triggers like stress, the state offers free coaching and a supply of nicotine patches or gum (more than $145 in value) through the quit line.

"We know the tough economy is hitting people hard," said Secretary of Health Mary Selecky.

"It’s another good reason for those who smoke to try quitting. It will improve their health and they’ll save money at the same time. Our quit line is free, and callers receive at least a two-week supply of nicotine patches or gum at no charge."

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According to American Legacy, economic stress is particularly affecting people with household of less than $35,000 a year. About 38 percent of stressed smokers in these lower income households report smoking more. The numbers are also up among stressed smokers with higher household income levels, although not as much.

The average cost of a pack of cigarettes in our state is $5.38, costing a pack-a-day smoker almost $2,000 a year. For many, that’s more than a couple months of rent and groceries.

The Department of Health recommends people who smoke figure out how much they spend on cigarettes so they know how much they’ll save by quitting. It’s an excellent incentive. "Shortly after quitting, people are amazed at how much better they feel and are happy about having quit," said Mindi Plank, a quit coach at the Washington State Tobacco Quit Line. "They comment on how nice it is to have more money, which in some cases amounts to an extra few thousand dollars a year."

Since the Washington State Tobacco Prevention and Control Program began in 2000, the adult smoking rate has dropped from 22.4 percent in 1999 to a low of 16.5 percent in 2007. During that same time period, more than 105,000 people have called the quit line for help. Yet adults with low income and lower education continue to smoke at persistently higher rates. The smoking rate for people with low income is 32 percent; the rate for people with a high school diploma or less is 27 percent.

The Department of Health urges people to start their New Year right by calling the Tobacco Quit Line and taking the first step toward a healthier 2009.