Smokers good at math are more likely to want to quit

June 22, 2020

COLUMBUS, Ohio - For smokers who are better at math, the decision to quit just adds up, a new study suggests.

Researchers found that smokers who scored higher on a test of math ability were more likely than others to say they intended to quit smoking.

The reason: They had a better memory for numbers related to smoking risk, which led to perceiving a greater risk from smoking and then a greater intention to quit.

"People who had better math skills remembered more of the scary numbers about smoking risks that we gave them, and that made a difference," said Brittany Shoots-Reinhard, lead author of the study and research assistant professor in psychology at The Ohio State University.

This study is one of the few to link the ability to work with math - called numeracy - with smoking, Shoots-Reinhard said.

"These results may help explain why many studies find that smokers who are more educated are more likely to successfully quit," she said.

The study was published online recently in the journal Health Psychology.

The research involved 696 adult smokers in the United States who participated online. At the beginning of the session, participants were given a short, standardized test measuring numeracy.

Participants were then shown eight different cigarette warning labels, four times each. The warning labels had various images, such as a cartoon gravestone or a photo of a damaged lung.

Each label also included a congressionally mandated text warning (such as "Smoking can kill you") paired with risk probability information for smokers and non-smokers. For example, "75.4 percent of smokers will die before the age of 85, compared to 53.7 percent of non-smokers."

At various points, participants were asked to rate their emotional reactions to each label, the credibility of each label and the personal relevance of each label.

Either immediately after the experiment or six weeks later, the participants answered a variety of questions designed to see how much they remembered of the risk information they were given. They were also asked questions gauging their perception of how high their risk was related to smoking and to rate how likely they thought they were to quit smoking in the next 30 days or the next year.

Although it wasn't the focus of this study, the findings confirmed earlier research suggesting that memory for high-emotion warning labels (those that had graphic images like a diseased lung) was lower immediately after the experiment than memory for the low-emotion warning labels (those with graphics like the cartoon gravestone).

However, memory for the graphic labels declined less for those tested six weeks later than for those shown the less graphic images.

But over and above the effects of the images, participants who scored higher in numeracy tended to have better memory for the risks involved in smoking, including the statistics. And this was linked to higher risk perceptions and intentions to quit.

The results suggest that health officials and policymakers should evaluate how they present risk information to smokers, Shoots-Reinhard said.

"Smokers who are less numerate tend to have a very superficial knowledge about the health risks of their habit," she said.

"What we saw here is that people who better understood numbers had a better understanding of the risks. We need to find a way to communicate that to people who aren't as numerate."

Shoots-Reinhard recommended the use of simple infographics and similar devices to help less numerate smokers better understand the risks.

"We want people to understand the risk information in order to make more informed decisions. Our results suggest that may help them make the decision to quit," she said.
-end-
Co-authors on the study were Breann Erford, Abigail Shoben and Elizabeth Klein of Ohio State; Abigail Evans of Ohio State and the Battelle Memorial Institute; Daniel Romer of the University of Pennsylvania; and Ellen Peters of the University of Oregon.

The research was supported by grants from the National Cancer Institute, the Food and Drug Administration Center for Tobacco Products and the National Science Foundation.

Contact: Brittany Shoots-Reinhard, shoots-reinhard.1@osu.edu

Written by Jeff Grabmeier, 614-292-8457; Grabmeier.1@osu.edu

Ohio State University

Related Smoking Articles from Brightsurf:

Smoking rates falling in adults, but stroke survivors' smoking rates remain steady
While the rate of Americans who smoke tobacco has fallen steadily over the last two decades, the rate of stroke survivors who smoke has not changed significantly.

What is your risk from smoking? Your network knows!
A new study from researchers at Penn's Annenberg School for Communication found that most people, smokers and non-smokers alike, were nowhere near accurate in their answers to questions about smoking's health effects.

Want to quit smoking? Partner up
Kicking the habit works best in pairs. That's the main message of a study presented today at EuroPrevent 2019, a scientific congress of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC).

Smoking and mortality in Asia
In this analysis of data from 20 studies conducted in China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and India with more than 1 million participants, deaths associated with smoking continued to increase among men in Asia grouped by the years in which they were born.

Predictors of successfully quitting smoking among smokers registered at the quit smoking clinic at a public hospital in northeastern Malaysia
In the current issue of Family Medicine and Community Health, Nur Izzati Mohammad et al. consider how cigarette smoking is one of the risk factors leading to noncommunicable diseases such as cardiovascular and respiratory system diseases and cancer.

Restaurant and bar smoking bans do reduce smoking, especially among the highly educated
Smoking risk drops significantly in college graduates when they live near areas that have completely banned smoking in bars and restaurants, according to a new study in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

How the UK smoking ban increased wellbeing
Married women with children reported the largest increase in well-being following the smoking bans in the UK in 2006 and 2007 but there was no comparable increase for married men with children.

Smoking study personalizes treatment
A simple blood test is allowing Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) researchers to determine which patients should be prescribed varenicline (Chantix) to stop smoking and which patients could do just as well, and avoid side effects, by using a nicotine patch.

A biophysical smoking gun
While much about Alzheimer's disease remains a mystery, scientists do know that part of the disease's progression involves a normal protein called tau, aggregating to form ropelike inclusions within brain cells that eventually strangle the neurons.

A case where smoking helped
A mutation in the hemoglobin of a young woman in Germany was found to cause her mild anemia.

Read More: Smoking News and Smoking Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.