Part of Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy’s rationale for banning the sale of “loosies” was to keep poor people who frequent the convenience stores that typically sell single cigarettes at huge markups from smoking. A worthy goal, considering that the poor tend to be on Medicaid, and thus their medical bills are ultimately paid by taxpayers.
A disturbing new federal study on smoking indicates that there’s plenty of room for improvement in this area: While smoking has declined significantly (27 percent) among the general population over the last decade and a half, among poor people the decline has been far less impressive (just 15 percent). Among deeply impoverished adults from the rural South and Midwest, smoking rates have changed little, if at all, while the most dramatic declines took place in high-income urban areas.
Not surprisingly, level of education seems to have been a factor: People with college degrees were twice as likely to have quit during the period between 1997 and 2012 than those without. Ditto people with jobs vs. the jobless, and people with health insurance vs. the uninsured.
The message behind the study, done by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation and analyzed in Wednesday’s New York Times, is clear enough: The government must fine-tune its anti-smoking campaign, focusing on the poor and undereducated in rural areas.
While many of the people in these areas have other problems — such as drug abuse and hunger — that seem to make smoking pale in comparison, the mortality rate among smokers is still triple that of nonsmokers. So getting smokers who are dependent on government for their health care to quit seems well worth the effort and expense.