Tobacco control measures have succeeded in reducing overall smoking rates in the United States over the past 50 years, but researchers have pinpointed groups that are more prone to smoking than others. The report, which is published by the American Cancer Society, explains that higher rates of smoking in certain subpopulations is one of the biggest challenges in combating tobacco use.
People in lower socioeconomic groups, certain ethnic or gay communities, and those with mental illnesses are among those subgroups that remain more susceptible to smoking. In addition, members of the military and people who work for lower wages are also more likely to smoke tobacco.
The number of college-educated individuals who smoke dropped from 40 percent to only 6.5 percent over the last five decades. However, 23.1 percent of people with no more than a high school level of education are smokers.
While tobacco use has declined in all socioeconomic groups, the largest reductions have been among higher income groups. As of 2016, 25 percent of adults in households beneath the poverty line smoked compared to only 10 percent of adults in higher income households.
Regarding race, the highest prevalence of smoking is found in people of American Indian or Alaskan Native origin. Among individuals who suffer from mental illness, 60 percent of those diagnosed with schizophrenia use tobacco.
Members of the LGBT community smoke more than heterosexuals, which experts believe may be attributed to the social stress of living in a society that can be hostile toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals.
While smoking rates are still significantly higher in the military than they are among the general population, they declined by at least 25 percent between 1980 and 2011 – from around 50 percent to 24 percent.
The researchers also found a huge discrepancy in tobacco usage across the states. The study authors identified an area from Michigan to Mississippi, including several adjacent states, where smoking prevalence is substantially above the national average.
“The high prevalence of cigarette smoking among vulnerable populations is one of the most pressing challenges facing the tobacco control community,” wrote the study authors.
“More attention to and support for promising novel interventions, in addition to new attempts at reaching these populations through conventional interventions that have proven to be effective, are crucial going forward to find new ways to address these disparities.”
The study is published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.
By Chrissy Sexton, Earth.com Staff Writer