Smoking and Poverty

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. accounting for more than 480,000 deaths every year.”  Although the adult smoking rate is the lowest it has been in decades, those adults in the poverty level are smoking more; current U.S. smoking rate is at 18.1%, but jumps to 27.9% for those adults living below the poverty level.  Researchers already know that adults in poverty tend to smoke more, but results of a recent study looked at Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) benefits and combined it with the tobacco use data from the Census Bureau to “establish whether an increase in these payouts caused recipients to smoke more.”  What they found may surprise you.

The IRS.gov site says “the EITC is a benefit for working people who have low to moderate income”  The idea of this tax credit is to reduce the amount of tax you owe and provide you with more money in your pocket.  What researchers found was that a 10% increase in EITC income caused smokers to consume 20% more cigarettes per day or 3.37 more cigarettes.”  The 3.37 cigarettes may not sound like a substantial number, but it adds up to 101.1 cigarettes over a 30-day time period, or five extra packs of cigarettes in a month.

Not every person receiving EITC payouts is a smoker and for those non-smokers the additional income may help improve their health.  But smokers appear less likely to quit as they smoke more with the additional income.   While economists believe the EITC policy is effective, the researchers believe “it might be a good idea to provide anti-smoking programs alongside anti-poverty programs.”

The researchers admit that the scope of the study “wasn’t just to study the effects on the EITC on smoking”, but “to better under how lower-income Americans spend additional income.”  Sounds as if the researchers will have ideas for a new study.

Click here for the entire story.

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