Women Smokers In Public Housing Lack Health-Risk Facts

June 02, 1998

Public education efforts to get young African American women of low socioeconomic status to quit smoking should focus on messages about the specific health risks of smoking and the negative connotation of being addicted to cigarettes, according to researchers.

"Young women of low socioeconomic status are an important target for smoking cessation interventions," writes Clara Manfredi, PhD, and her colleagues in the June issue of the journal Health Education & Behavior. "The health risks associated with smoking are compounded in this age and gender group by risks specific to reproductive, maternal, and child health."

Despite these special risks and continuing declines in smoking among the general population, women in the studied population group continue to show high rates of smoking and little motivation to quit.

Manfredi, who works for the Health Research and Policy Centers at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and her research team surveyed 248 women smokers aged 18 to 39 who live in public housing in Chicago. Of these, more than two-thirds had either no plans to quit smoking (28 percent) or planned to quit but not within the next 12 months (40 percent).

The researchers found that a general concern about the effect of smoking on health was the most important factor in determining whether or not the women smokers were motivated to quit. However, as a group they had little factual knowledge about specific health risks and the benefits of quitting. Concern about getting lung cancer was limited and did not increase either their overall health concern or their motivation to stop smoking.

"Perceptions of being addicted to cigarettes had a negative connotation that motivated these smokers to consider quitting and increased their desire to do so," the authors also found. "At the same time...perceptions of addiction also delayed actual plans to quit, perhaps by increasing the perceived difficulty and discomfort associated with quitting."

The research team had expected to find that a major barrier to quitting was the use of smoking as a way of coping with the stresses of life in depressed neighborhoods, where unemployment, crime, and substandard housing prevail.

"Smoking cessation in such life situations," the authors write, "competes with the strong social acceptance of smoking as an expedient response to emotional stress, loneliness, and boredom."

Contrary to their expectations, the researchers found that smoking for pleasure and to control anger and other negative emotions was not more prevalent in the study group than among other women smokers. However, among those who did say they smoked for pleasure or to control negative emotions, this significantly reduced their desire to quit.

The four strongest factors in motivating the women smokers to want to quit were concerns about health, having people close to them who very much wanted them to quit, wanting to show that they were not addicted, and the expense of cigarettes.

The research was supported by a grant from the National Cancer Institute.

Health Education & Behavior, a bimonthly peer-reviewed journal of the Society for Public Health Education (SOPHE), publishes research on critical health issues for professionals in the implementation and administration of public health information programs. SOPHE is an international, non-profit professional organization that promotes the health of all people through education. For additional information about SOPHE, contact Elaine Auld at 202-408-9804.

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Posted by the Center for the Advancement of Health. For information about the Center, contact Richard Hebert through email at rhebert@cfah.org or by phone at 202-387-2829.

Center for Advancing Health

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