Ever since our elementary school lessons on the negative effects of tobacco use and secondhand smoke, we have become flooded with the simple facts that not only are the substances within tobacco highly addictive, but that tobacco itself is a leading cause of cancer and preventable death. But we know, realistically, that even after hearing these statistics on repeat, they will not stop some of our peers, or maybe even ourselves, from indulging in the deadly addiction of cigarettes. We have heard that tobacco use may stem from joining a new crowd or from searching for a new ‘hobby’. But just as tobacco use is a cause of cancer, socioeconomic status is the single greatest predictor of tobacco use. According to Tobacco Free Maine, “Tobacco and poverty create a vicious cycle [where] low income people smoke more, suffer more, spend more, and die more from tobacco use.”
In states like New York, a smoker can easily spend over $5,000 a year on cigarettes. Just as realistically as someone of a higher socioeconomic status would suggest that another person ‘just get a job’, the same higher person might ask, ‘Wouldn’t you rather spend the money that you do have on necessity items?’ But it is not that simple. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NIB), “People of different social statuses lead lives that differ in almost all aspects.” Socioeconomic status affects one’s opportunities, decisions, behaviors, and especially their amount of exposure to a variety things.
In 1983, tobacco companies spent $2.5 billion on smoking promotions and advertisements; and it became such a big source of revenue for media organizations that many refused to publish anti-smoking information. After many disputes between the tobacco industry companies and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2009 granted the FDA with increased authority over tobacco products. This act deemed it appropriate for the FDA to consider the public health of both tobacco users and non-users, allowing the FDA to place restrictions on the cigarette and smokeless tobacco advertising and marketing.
Low-income neighborhoods are more likely to have tobacco retailers. Minors are more likely to be influenced. And exposure to anything will cause its popularity to grow. Because of this 2009 act, tobacco product advertisements within 1,000 feet of schools and playgrounds are banned, brand sponsorships of sports and entertainment events are banned, and eighteen years is the federal nationwide minimum age for the purchasing of tobacco products.
It was John P. Pierce and Elizabeth A Gilpin’s article titled “News Media Coverage of smoking and health is associated with changes in population rates of smoking cessation but not initiation” that reinforced the correlation of exposure and habit. Now we know that, contrary to what we’re told in health class, one is not necessarily inclined to pick up tobacco usage because they think it’s cool. But they are more likely to build upon the habit if they are exposed to it more than others through media, advertisements, and their overall socioeconomic surroundings.