Smokers Vote Less | Health Blog

Smokers Stigmatized

Smokers Vote Less | Health Blog

A recent study out of the University of Colorado discovered that smokers are 60 percent less likely to vote than nonsmokers.

What do the old films Breakfast at Tiffany’s with Audrey Hepburn, Grease with John Travolta, and Chinatown starring Jack Nicholson all have in common? Answer: They all featured characters who smoked cigarettes, and who looked cool while puffing away.

Movies no longer showcase smoking heroes and heroines–although many of Hollywood’s biggest celebrities smoke in their private lives.1 Norty. “20 Celebrities You Didn’t Know Smoked Cigarettes.” Celebrity Toob. Feb 7, 2014. (Accessed 25 May 2015.) http://celebritytoob.com/pictures/20-celebrities-didnt-know-smoked-cigarettes/ In just a few decades, smokers have lost as much status as Bill Clinton did when Monica Lewinsky spoke up to the point where smokers these days contend with discrimination, marginalization, and rejection. Perhaps it’s well deserved-after all, as we’ve reported before, smokers infect the rest of us with their second- and third-hand fumes. Plus, it’s hard for some people to feel sorry for people who “choose” to do something that compromises their health and the health of those in their orbit. From that perspective, if marginalizing smokers provokes them to quit or discourages others from starting in the first place, it would be easy to think that it might not a bad thing. But it turns out that ostracizing smokers may have some unintended and unfortunate consequences.

A recent study out of the University of Colorado discovered that smokers are 60 percent less likely to vote than nonsmokers.2 “Smokers don’t vote: 11,626-person study shows marginalization of tobacco users.” 19 May 2015. Science Daily. 22 May 2015. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/05/150519132755.htm The study involved over 11,600 individuals who were contacted at random by telephone. Respondents answered questions about where they lived, who they lived with, what they did for work, whether they smoked and if they had voted in recent elections, among other things. Seventeen percent of the people surveyed admitted to smoking, an accurate reflection of the population at large given that the Centers for Disease Control estimates that 18 percent of US adults still smoke.3 “Current Cigarette Smoking Among Adults in the US.” 22 May 2015. http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/adult_data/cig_smoking/

The 60 percent voting discrepancy between smokers and nonsmokers presents a huge gulf, but why does that discrepancy exist? Is it because the type of person who smokes already is marginalized and out of the mainstream, a rebel? Or does smoking alienate the smoker from society to the point where smokers stop engaging in the public process? Most of the experts seem to think the latter is true–smokers have become stigmatized, and so they withdraw from the public arena.

There’s little argument that smoking becomes less socially acceptable by the day. At this point, more than 80 percent of municipalities in the US have smoking bans of some sort in place. About half the population lives in geographic areas that ban smoking in all workplaces, restaurants, and bars; in other regions, the bans are partial. Some places, such as New York City, San Diego, Chicago, and Hawaii County, now ban smoking virtually everywhere except in private homes. Smokers can’t light up even at beaches, parks, or in any public spaces.  The result is that smokers hide away in order to smoke, or they huddle together in undesirable places, making the habit seem seedy.

If you’re thinking that this is a trivial issue, that it doesn’t matter one whit whether or not smokers choose to vote, a review of smoking statistics might change your mind. There are still 43 million smokers in the US above voting age.4 “Current Cigarette Smoking Among Adults in the US.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 23 May 2015. http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/adult_data/cig_smoking/ That translates to about one out of every five voting age adults. It’s interesting to note, by the way, that there’s a huge divide in smoking rates according to level of educational attainment. Those with only a GED smoke at more than four times the rate of those with undergraduate college degrees and at eight times the rate of those with graduate degrees. Of course, one might argue that highly educated people are more likely to vote, anyway, regardless of whether or not they smoke, but experts believe that the preponderance of nonvoting smokers has more to do with that marginalization factor.

“The result [showing that smokers vote at reduced rates] is intuitive,” says Dr. Karen Albright of the Colorado School of Public Health and author of the study. “We know from previous research that smokers are an increasingly marginalized population, involved in fewer organizations and activities and with less interpersonal trust than nonsmokers. But what our research suggests is that this marginalization may also extend beyond the interpersonal level to attitudes toward political systems and institutions.”

Research indicates that many smokers are ashamed of their habit. For instance, a recent study of more than 3000 smokers across the US found that 13 percent hide the fact that they smoke from their doctor or healthcare provider.5 Rettner, Rachel. “1 in 10 Smokers Keep the Habit Secret from Doctors.” 6 January 2012. Live Science. 23 May 2015. http://www.livescience.com/36072-1-10-smokers-habit-secret-doctors.html That means up to six million people in the US likely are concealing the truth from those in a position to offer them help. Of those not admitting to smoking, 43 percent said that they don’t tell their doctor the truth because they feel ashamed. Two-thirds said they couldn’t bear to be lectured about why they should quit.

Of course, it’s impossible based on studies to date to prove conclusively that feelings of shame keep smokers away from the polls, but certainly, the correlation between smoking and nonvoting is striking. We can only hope that if humiliation drives smokers to hide their habit and possibly, to avoid the voting booth, it also, ultimately, might drive them to quit.

References   [ + ]

1. Norty. “20 Celebrities You Didn’t Know Smoked Cigarettes.” Celebrity Toob. Feb 7, 2014. (Accessed 25 May 2015.) http://celebritytoob.com/pictures/20-celebrities-didnt-know-smoked-cigarettes/
2. “Smokers don’t vote: 11,626-person study shows marginalization of tobacco users.” 19 May 2015. Science Daily. 22 May 2015. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/05/150519132755.htm
3. “Current Cigarette Smoking Among Adults in the US.” 22 May 2015. http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/adult_data/cig_smoking/
4. “Current Cigarette Smoking Among Adults in the US.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 23 May 2015. http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/adult_data/cig_smoking/
5. Rettner, Rachel. “1 in 10 Smokers Keep the Habit Secret from Doctors.” 6 January 2012. Live Science. 23 May 2015. http://www.livescience.com/36072-1-10-smokers-habit-secret-doctors.html

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