While an increasing number of U.S. citizens are saying no to cigarettes, current smoking rates are holding steady among people who face multiple forms of socioeconomic or health-related disadvantages, a recent study shows.

Man smoking a cigarette holding a burning filter tip in his hand alongside a glass ashtray full of ash and dead butts. Terroa/iStock/Getty Images

The odds of current smoking, versus never smoking, declined significantly during 2008-2017 for individuals with none of six disadvantages tied to cigarette use, including disability, unemployment, poverty, low education, psychological distress, and heavy alcohol intake, according to researchers.

Individuals with one or two of those disadvantages have also been cutting back, the data suggest. But, by contrast, odds of current versus never smoking did not significantly change for those with three or more disadvantages, according to Adam M. Leventhal, PhD, of the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, and coinvestigators.

“How this pattern can inform a cohesive policy agenda is unknown, but it is clear from these findings that the crux of the recently expanding tobacco-related health disparity problem in the United States is not tied to groups facing merely a single form of disadvantage,” Dr. Leventhal and coauthors wrote in a report on the study in JAMA Internal Medicine.

The cross-sectional analysis by Dr. Leventhal and colleagues was based on National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) data from 2008-2017 including more than 278,000 respondents aged 25 years or older.

A snapshot of that 10-year period showed that current smoking prevalence was successively higher depending on the number of socioeconomic or health-related disadvantages.

The mean prevalence of current smoking over that entire time period was just 13.8% for people with zero of the six disadvantages, 21.4% for those with one disadvantage, and so on, up to 58.2% for those with all six disadvantages, according to data in the published report.

Encouragingly, overall smoking prevalence fell from 20.8% in 2008-2009 to 15.8% in 2016-2017, the researchers found. However, the decreasing trend was not apparent for individuals with many disadvantages.

The odds ratio for change in odds of smoking per year was 0.951 (95% confidence interval, 0.944-0.958) for those with zero disadvantages, 0.96 (95% CI, 0.95-0.97) for one disadvantage, and 0.98 (95% CI, 0.97-0.99) for two, all representing significant annual reductions in current versus never smoking, investigators said. By contrast, no such significant changes were apparent for those with three, four, five, or six such disadvantages.

Tobacco control or regulatory policies that consider these disadvantages separately may be overlooking a “broader pattern” showing that the cumulative number of disadvantages correlates with the magnitude of disparity, wrote Dr. Leventhal and colleagues in their report.

“Successful prevention of smoking initiation and promotion of smoking cessation in multi-disadvantaged populations would substantially reduce the smoking-related public health burden in the United States,” they concluded.

Dr. Leventhal and colleagues reported no conflicts related to their research, which was supported in part by a Tobacco Centers of Regulatory Science award from the National Cancer Institute and the Food and Drug Administration, among other sources.

SOURCE: Leventhal AM et al. JAMA Intern Med. 2019 Apr 22. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2019.0192.