Smoking and its correlation with health has been a focus of the public eye for a while now. Sustaining a smoking habit goes much deeper than health issues alone and can influence every corner of an individual’s life. The chances of suffering from smoking addiction start in childhood and have a knock-on effect on education, career prospects and mental health.

The UK’s smoking rate has dropped more than 5 per cent in the last decade and currently sits at around 15 per cent. While this is a significant improvement, the UK is still a long way off the Government’s 5 per cent rate that would make us a ‘smokefree’ society. The way in which smoking habits are tackled needs more careful consideration.

Who’s most likely to smoke?

There are certain demographics in society that are more likely to smoke. If an individual fits into more than one, this increases the likelihood of a smoking addiction. Demographics with higher smoking rates include:

  • Those with mental health issues.
  • People working in lower paid jobs, those living under the poverty line and those living on benefits.
  • Living in shared accommodation or rented housing.
  • Those who are single/unmarried.
  • People with a lower qualification level.
  • People who identify as LGBTQ+.
  • Individuals whose parents smoke.

Why do people continue to smoke and why are they starting in the first place?

It can be as simple as being born in a poorer area and household. Growing up in this environment makes people more likely to smoke for a variety of reasons. The cycle begins in childhood and combines many of the factors listed above.

It often starts with living in a household with smoking parents. This alone makes a child more likely to pick up the habit in later life. Living in a lower decile area and working lower income jobs while also sustaining an expensive smoking habit, adds stress to both parents and child. The unfortunate reality is that many people use smoking as a coping mechanism for stress.

Financial stress at home affects children as well as parents, which in turn can affect education. Children can be less focussed in school, meaning their grades can suffer and the level to which they’re qualified is often lower. This then affects employment. A lower level of education often translates to lower pay and manual jobs that also have higher smoking rates.

Stress and smoking

Lower education and lower pay can lead to less financial stability which affects living conditions and general health. All of these things combined can significantly impact mental health and contribute to higher stress levels. Aside from social factors, there are biological factors that make people inclined to start (and maintain) a smoking habit.

While nicotine alone isn’t carcinogenic, it is addictive. It causes the body to release dopamine which alleviates stress and induces a feeling of calm. However, the more your body gets used to nicotine, the more it needs to feel the same sense of calm. In turn, a progressively higher dose is needed over shorter intervals in order to feel the same sense of calm.

Poverty, smoking and the increased cost of cigarettes

People smoke to relieve stress from financial and lifestyle pressure, which in turn adds more financial stress to their lives due to the cost of cigarettes. The cost of cigarettes has more than doubled in less than a decade alone while take-home pay has stagnated. Essentially, someone who was smoking a pack a day in 2011 was likely spending around £35 a week whereas now that cost is closer to £75. For an individual working a minimum wage job, this equates to 13 per cent of their take-home pay a week, spent on smoking alone.

The importance of quit services

A study completed by ASH UK found that of the 1.4 million households in England living in poverty, if the cost of smoking was returned to them an estimated 418,127 would be elevated above the poverty line.

Quitting is important for more than just health reasons alone. Smoking is a habit that affects the health of the smoker but also their quality of life, stress levels, chances of living in poverty and their family. Quit services and initiatives like Stoptober and Vapril give smokers the support and tools they need to stop smoking to not only improve public health, but also to help with poverty levels throughout the UK.

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