We already know that people who are strained financially are more likely to smoke, and that it takes money out of their pockets and their communities. Now some new research has found that parents who experienced increased financial strain, over the period of the recession, were more likely to continue using smoking or to relapse, and the authors suggest that ‘the most probable explanation for this is that tobacco is a commonly used, affordable palliative for stress’. Jings, so children in families who were already struggling to cope had even less money (smoking is expensive, involving an average spend of £1,626 a year and (triple whammy) their parents were more likely to have impaired physical and mental health and a shorter lifespan).
There’s a vicious cycle at play here…if only we could think of a way to help people to feel better physically and mentally, to live for longer, to have children less likely to smoke or to be exposed to second-hand smoke and as a cheeky wee bonus have more of their own money left to spend. Wait a minute – what if we could help smokers to recognise that smoking doesn’t relieve stress, it’s the addiction to smoking (and forking out buckets of money to support that addiction) that causes stress and that all lighting up a fag does is relieve the addiction till the next time the levels of nicotine (and all the other chemicals the tobacco industry adds to increase and sustain that addiction) drop? And speaking of the tobacco industry, shouldn’t we be angrier that they are robbing people of health and wealth just to make their shareholders ($44.1 billion profit in 2015) richer?
Anyway, with surveys consistently reporting that most smokers want to stop and a nationwide stop smoking service that’s free, supported by stop smoking medication that’s also free – a solution is surely just around the corner, bringing with it healthier, wealthier families? Well no, because somewhere along the line smoking is still being tacitly sanctioned as a coping mechanism, and that feels like a further inequality perpetuating disadvantage and holding back opportunities to regain health and wealth from those who have the least of it to spare.
Of course, I’m just saying in several sentences what Sir Michael Marmot said in one – ‘tobacco control is central to any strategy to tackle health inequalities as smoking accounts for approximately half of the difference in life expectancy between the lowest and highest’. Nailed it Sir Michael (!) yet why does smoking still so seldom make it onto the agenda when poverty is discussed? Do we perceive life as just so dismal and empty for some of the poorest people in society that it would be cruel to ask them to give up their fags? But would it, would it really? Because what I’m thinking is that it’s patently unjust that we accept that those who have the least are being exploited by the tobacco industry into spending money they don’t have to make themselves poorer, sadder, sicker and more likely to die.