High education plus heart attack: Sure-fire way to quit smoking

December 20, 1998

It's widely known that the more education you have, the less likely you are to be a smoker, but among middle-aged smokers, education alone gives little clue as to who is likely to quit the habit, a new study shows.

What almost guarantees that the smoker will quit, says Linda A. Wray of the Institute of Social Research at the University of Michigan and her colleagues, is having both a postgraduate degree and a heart attack.

"The dramatic influence of higher levels of education following the experience of a heart attack suggests that more highly educated older smokers 'learn' from their heart attacks and quit smoking," Wray and her colleagues write in the December issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.

Absent a heart attack, they report, "higher levels of education had virtually no effect on whether or not a person quit," probably because by 1992 education had already exerted its major effect on smoking behavior, lowering the likelihood that highly educated persons would still be smokers unless they were heavy, long-term smokers more heavily addicted to the habit.

At lower levels of educational attainment, learning by heart attack doesn't seem to work, the researchers report. Their study found that only smokers with at least a high school education changed their smoking behavior after a heart attack.

Each additional year beyond high school dramatically raised the likelihood of quitting after a heart attack -- from one in two for those with a high school diploma to near certainty for those who have gone beyond a bachelors degree.

The study focused mainly on 2,391 persons aged 51 to 61 who were smokers in 1992 and for whom there were matching 1994 data on smoking status and other characteristics.

The smoking behavior of these middle-aged adults was analyzed using data from the Health and Retirement Study, funded by the National Institute on Aging. The data were collected by the Survey Research Center at the University of Michigan.
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The Journal of Health and Social Behavior is a peer-reviewed quarterly publication of the American Sociological Association. For information about the Journal, contact its editor, John Mirowsky, 614-688-8673.

Posted by the Center for the Advancement of Health . For information about the Center, contact Richard Hebert, 202-387-2829

Center for Advancing Health

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