POOR children are more likely to smoke cigarettes than rich children, a non-government organization says citing a new study by researchers from the Duke University School of Medicine that appeared in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology.
Health Justice managing director Irene Reyes says the economic hardship experienced early in life, such as difficulty paying bills or needing to sell possessions for cash contribute to the erosion of a child’s self-control, and regardless of strong parenting in adolescence.
This lack of self-control, in turn, leads to substance abuse, particularly cigarette smoking.
Reyes says the study set out to learn the correlation between economic strains in childhood and substance abuse such as smoking, drinking and marijuana use.
The study also sought to learn how financial difficulties affect self-control, and how positive parenting might ease the tendency to abuse such substances. To do this, the group analyzed data from 1,285 children and caregivers sourced from a study of American families conducted from 1989 to 2009.
Economic status was measured by annual family income, as well as by analyzing the results of a survey on the difficulty paying bills or postponing medical care. Other relevant information concerning childhood self-control and parental interactions were also studied.
Bernard Fuemmeler, senior author of the study and associate professor in Community and Family Medicine at Duke University School of Medicine, notes that poverty during childhood not only appears to affect child development. It can also have lasting effects on the types of health choices made during adolescence and early adulthood, especially as it relates to cigarette smoking.
He says economic strains may shape an individual’s capacity for self-control by diminishing the opportunities for self-regulation.
“Poor self-control may be a product of limited learning resources and opportunities for developing appropriate behaviors,” Fuemmeler said.
As a result of these findings, health champions have urged lawmakers to pass a law mandating picture-based warnings on cigarette packs.
Health Justice project manager Diana Trivino says another recent study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health has proved that graphic health warnings on cigarette packs are most effective in educating all demographic groups about the dangers of smoking.
She insists that greater efforts to reduce tobacco use are needed, adding the poor face the heavier burden if we fail to effectively regulate tobacco.
“Evidence shows consistently higher smoking prevalence among the poor, and the children among them are at greater risk of becoming addicted to tobacco,” Trivino said.
She cites the urgent need to craft measures that can reach across all sectors, age groups and socio-economic classes since more than a quarter of all Filipinos live below the poverty line and the population is dominated by children and the youth.
She likewise says studies confirm that graphic or picture-based health warnings on cigarette packs are the most effective in getting the message across to the various demographic groups about the health risks and lethal effects of smoking.
“It is our poor countrymen who suffer the most because of the tobacco epidemic,” Trivino said
“In many countries as well as here, tobacco addiction among the impoverished is a major factor for other issues such as malnutrition and lack of education.
“We are confident that graphic health warnings will help lessen the burden brought on by smoking. We urge our lawmakers to pass this life-saving measure not just for the smokers but for their children who are equally if not more affected because of smoking.”