The study authors wonder if the stigma experienced by smokers might contribute to voter apathy.
A previous study by Swedish researchers found a link between smoking and “political mistrust.” Building on that work, the University of Colorado Cancer Center (CU Cancer Center) study is the first to link a health-risk behavior with electoral participation.
Using random digit dialing, the researchers surveyed 11,626 people over the telephone, as part of the Colorado Tobacco Attitudes and Behaviors Study (C-TABS). The participants were asked questions relating to demographic, social and behavioral factors, including whether they smoked and had voted in a recent election.
The study reports that 17% of those polled were smokers, and that daily smokers were 60% less likely to vote than nonsmokers.
Karen Albright, PhD, assistant professor at the Colorado School of Public Health, and the paper’s first author, says of the finding:
“One on hand, the result is intuitive. We know from previous research that smokers are an increasingly marginalized population, involved in fewer organizations and activities and with less interpersonal trust than nonsmokers. But what our research suggests is that this marginalization may also extend beyond the interpersonal level to attitudes toward political systems and institutions.”
Do smokers feel oppressed by political institutions?
However, Albright points out that the study does not tell us why smokers are less likely to vote. She suggests one theory could be that smokers feel oppressed by political institutions – a reaction against the spread of clean indoor air laws and tobacco taxes. Also, Albright suggests, the modern stigma associated with smoking may create a feeling of “depression or fatalism,” or cause them to feel withdrawn from society.
Previous studies have found, for instance, that lung cancer patients are likely to suffer significant stigma because of that disease’s link with smoking, which may impact on patients’ care and treatment.
And last year, Medical News Today ran a Spotlight feature looking at how people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) felt suspicious of public health campaigns that depict COPD patients as tobacco addicts, with one patient opining that “Their intention is not to improve conditions for people with COPD. The most important thing is to campaign for public smoking cessation.”
Albright wonders if this stigma experienced by smokers might therefore contribute to voter apathy.
Currently analyzing more recent C-TABS data, the researchers hope to further explore smokers’ political engagement. “We’re getting a clearer picture of the ‘what’ and soon I hope it will be time to talk to individual smokers in these populations to start exploring the ‘why,'” Albright says.
Recently, MNT looked at a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine that explored the concept of employers providing a cash incentive for their employees to quit smoking.
We also reported on a study by researchers from Duke Medicine in Durham, NC, who found that people who successfully quit smoking appear to have enhanced connectivity between brain regions associated with cravings and motor control, compared with smokers who were unsuccessful at quitting.
Written by David McNamee