America’s new tobacco crisis: The rich stopped smoking, the poor didn’t

July CHW update

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After decades of lawsuits, public campaigns and painful struggles, Americans have finally done what once seemed impossible: Most of the country has quit smoking, saving millions of lives and leading to massive reductions in cancer. Unless, reports The Washington Post, those Americans are poor, uneducated or live in a rural area. Hidden among the steady declines in recent years is the stark reality that cigarettes are becoming a habit of the poor. The national smoking rate has fallen to historic lows, with just 15 percent of adults still smoking. But the socioeconomic gap has never been bigger. Cigarette companies are focusing their marketing on lower income communities to retain their customer base, researchers say.  “Poorer people don’t smoke because anything’s different or wrong about them,” said Robin Koval, president of Truth Initiative, a leading ­tobacco-control nonprofit group. “Their communities are not protected like others are. They don’t have access to good health care and cessation programs. If you have a bull’s eye painted on your back, it’s harder to get away.”  Tobacco companies have also invested considerable resources in recent years lobbying against smoking restrictions and taxes, especially in poorer, rural and often Southern states, where smoking remains highest.