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Tuesday, June 1, 1999 Published at 09:13 GMT 10:13 UK


Smoking and poverty link probe

Poor people are more likely to smoke

A survey will try to find out why the "quit smoking" message is failing to change the smoking habits of people in deprived areas.

Professor Gerard Hastings and Jean King of the Cancer Research Campaign discuss the report
Researchers, funded by the Cancer Research Campaign and pharmaceutical company SmithKline Beecham, will interview more than 2,500 Glasgow residents to identify ways to help low-income smokers kick the habit.

Unskilled workers are two to three times more likely to smoke than professionals and those in rented accommodation are much more likely to smoke than house owners.

Research suggests that this is not because more people on low incomes take up smoking but because they are less likely to give up cigarettes than more affluent smokers.

The researchers, led by Professor Gerard Hastings from the Centre for Social Marketing at the University of Strathclyde, will be asking two main questions:

  • What motivates low-income smokers to try to stop smoking?
  • What outside help would assist them to quit?

[ image: Professor Gerard Hastings believes the issue is complex]
Professor Gerard Hastings believes the issue is complex
Professor Hastings said: "Researchers have found it helpful to look separately at: those who aren't considering giving up; those who are; those who are preparing to give up; those who are currently trying; those who have successfully given up and those who have never started smoking.

"Each of these groups can reveal to us vital information which we can use to devise health initiatives. We will be able to see what the root of the problem is - whether low-income smokers are trying to quit but not succeeding or whether quitting is something they don't even think about."

From their results, researchers will identify a range of health initiatives and pilot these with low-income smokers to get feedback on what is effective and practical.

Cancer link

Professor Gordon McVie, director-general of The Cancer Research Campaign said: "Deprivation is not only linked to high rates of smoking, it is also linked to lower-than-average chances of cancer survival.

[ image: Professor Gordon McVie says research could help to cut death rates]
Professor Gordon McVie says research could help to cut death rates
"Finding a way to help people on low incomes quit is vital if we are to see a reduction in the death toll from cancer."

A pilot study carried out last year by the Strathclyde team has already established that the best way to get smokers' views on quitting is to interview them in their homes or use postal questionnaires which have an incentive to return them in the form of a £5 voucher for a high-street chemist.

The postal method will be used in the wider study which begins this month.

Smoking is strongly linked to stressful lifestyle as well as poverty and there are high rates of smoking among the unemployed, the divorced or separated, and lone parents.

The government's White Paper, Smoking Kills, published in December 1998, included proposals to provide a week's free supply of nicotine replacement therapy to those least able to afford it.

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