Smoking in underserved communities nearly twice national rate, study finds

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People living in “underserved communities” are more likely to be smokers, according to a new study. Photo by StockSnap/Pixabay

Smoking is nearly twice as common in “underserved communities” in the United States as it is in wealthier areas, a study published by the journal CANCER found.

This increased rate of tobacco use in poorer areas is linked with higher prevalence of mental health conditions and substance use disorders in these communities, the researchers said.

The findings indicate residents of these communities may be at higher risk for cigarette use and nicotine addiction and could therefore gain significant benefits from tobacco prevention and cessation programs, according to the researchers.

“Our study underscores the importance of understanding the association and increased risk of mental health conditions and substance use disorders among adults from underserved communities who smoke,” study co-author Sue C. Lin said in a press release.

Policymakers also need to take steps to address “socioeconomic risk factors [for smoking] to achieve better health outcomes,” said Lin, a researcher with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration.

For this study, Lin and her colleagues analyzed results from the 2014 Health Center Patient Survey, a national questionnaire designed to assess the quality of healthcare people in the United States receive and their satisfaction with it.

First, they estimated the prevalence of smoking among adults from underserved communities — or those with high levels of poverty and reduced access to healthcare and educational services — who received primary care at federally qualified health centers, they said.

These centers serve individuals and families from underserved communities including people experiencing homelessness, migrant farm workers and residents of public housing, the researchers said.

The team also examined associations between smoking with mental health conditions and substance use disorders, they said.

Among adults from underserved communities, 28% reported smoking, or about double the national average of 14%, the data showed.

Of those who currently smoked, 59% had depression and 45% had anxiety, the researchers said.

Black adults in the U.S. who smoked were more than twice as likely to have substance use disorders as non-smoking Black adults, according to the researchers.

People living at or below 100% of the federal poverty level also had a two-fold higher risk for having a mental health condition, while those who are unemployed had a three-fold higher risk for substance use disorders, the researchers said.

“The study highlights the significance of tailored smoking cessation treatments for individuals from underserved communities that will support cancer prevention care,” Lin said.

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