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Socio-economic differences in smoking patterns

Friday 30 May 2008

Study reveals socio-economic differences in smoking patterns

Smokers in poorer suburbs smoke their cigarettes closer to the butt. This is the conclusion of a recently published study by the University of Otago, Wellington which looked at the smoking patterns in Wellington suburbs with different socio-economic status.

Dr George Thomson, colleagues from the Department of Public Health and a group of medical students conducted the first published study based on cigarette butts collected from streets, measuring the amount of tobacco actually smoked.

“The aim of the study was to see whether people from different socio-economic areas smoked different amounts of tobacco in each cigarette”, says Dr Thomson. “In fact we did find that smokers in poorer areas smoked closer to the butt than those in wealthier areas.” “Basically, poorer smokers have less money to burn.”

The students collected over 3500 measurable manufactured cigarette butts from six neighbourhoods; ranging from high (Karori, Wadestown) to low (Cannons Creek, Naenae) socio-economic areas.

Dr Thomson says that by measuring the collected butts they were able to show that tailor-made cigarettes from wealthier suburbs had 75% more unburned tobacco than those from the poorest suburbs. But with roll-your-owns, the study found no major differences between urban areas, possibly because of faster breakdown of this type of butt.

Dr Thomson says this study demonstrates that more effective and comprehensive tobacco control programmes are needed to help poorer smokers. He also argues that when tax on tobacco is increased, extra quitting assistance should to be available to smokers wanting to stop the habit. Otherwise these addicted smokers will just try to get more nicotine out of each cigarette.

“This study is about the real world of smoking behaviour, and goes beyond just surveying smokers” comments co-author Dr Nick Wilson. “It demonstrates what happens out on the street as a result of tobacco price policy and economic pressures. It also provides guidance for future policy directions on reducing health gaps between rich and poor in our society.”

Dr Wilson says they are considering further ‘observational’ research to provide more evidence of intensive smoking by poorer smokers, especially after the next increase in tobacco tax levels. “Given that tobacco tax increases are the most effective tobacco control strategy, a tax increase may occur in 2009, in the first year of a new government in New Zealand.”

This research is published in the international journal ‘Nicotine and Tobacco Research’ - . Partial funding from the Health Research Council and the Cancer Society contributed to this project.


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