Have you ever caught yourself thinking...

“They complain they can’t make ends meet but they smoke… they should just stop smoking!”

Have you everEscaping poverty - through the smoke

As humans, we all have our own biases. Looking at poverty and tobacco use may easily awaken judgement and discomfort in ourselves so let’s take a moment to explore this issue more deeply.

Despite the declining smoking rates in Canada, people living in poverty face many barriers and have much higher smoking rates. Tobacco users from disadvantaged groups have earlier rates of initiation, heavier nicotine dependence, and lower rates of cessation compared to the population as whole.

Why? People living in poverty generally have a whole list of barriers, from not having a decent education and housing to experiencing a lack of social connection and low self-esteem. They often live with higher stress levels which leads to increased rates of tobacco use as coping strategy.

Smoking cessation is expensive, clinics and nicotine replacement therapy are not readily accessible to all people. Accessing primary health care services is more difficult for people on low income and they are less likely to be aware of these programs.

Finally, low income neighbourhoods are now “market priorities” for tobacco companies. So imagine the situation: you are poor, stressed, vulnerable, many people smoke around you, you can’t afford an exciting trip or yoga class to take care of your mental health, it is difficult to access medical services AND cigarettes are more easily accessible than in richer neighbourhoods… How easy is it to stop smoking?

The answer is that it isn’t easy. To truly tackle tobacco use, we need to move beyond “Just quit” messages and address the challenges that face people experiencing financial stress, inadequate education, social isolation, past trauma, and the many other factors that lay beneath smoking.

For more information please visit the smokers' helpline.