There is no denying that cigarette smoking is a major health concern. The American Heart Association has declared it the most preventable cause of death in the United States, and smoking is attributed to nearly one third of deaths from coronary heart disease. While there are several methods that exist to curb smoking, new research shows that an increase in wages may actually reduce smoking rates in male workers.
The study in question was performed by researchers at the University of California Davis Health System, and was published in the Annals of Epidemiology. The researchers conducted this study based on the theory that an increase in salary could lower the number of employees who smoke. They evaluated data on smoking status, wages, and location for full-time employees between the ages of 21 to 65 from 1999-2009.
Their findings showed that the prevalence for smoking was lower in states that had higher minimum wages or higher unionization rates.
“Our findings are especially important as inflation-adjusted wages for low-income jobs have been dropping for decades and the percentage of workers in low-paying jobs has been growing nationwide,” said study senior author Paul Leigh, Ph.D., professor of public health sciences and researcher with the Center for Healthcare Policy and Research at UC Davis.
Leigh went on to add “Increasing the minimum wage could have a big impact on a significant health threat.”
Interestingly, wages were not found to influence the smoking rate among women.
The researchers hypothesize that the reason for these results may be tied to perceived self-worth. Men may be more likely to associate their own value to higher pay, meaning that those with lower paying jobs are more likely to engage in risky health behaviors.
Another possibility is stress. Many smokers say that they continue smoking as a means of relieving stress. For many with people dealing with money stress as a result of lower paying jobs, cigarettes could be used as an ill-advised coping mechanism.
Regardless of the reasoning, the results of prolonged smoking are something we at Bhat Internal Medicine see on a daily basis. It can exacerbate existing medical conditions, and lead to diseases of the heart, lungs, and several other organs. As many states begin adjusting their minimum wages, it will be interesting to see if this trend in decreased smoking rates continues.