When Wealthy People Quit Smoking, Tobacco Companies Went After the Poor

“If you have a bull’s eye painted on your back, it’s harder to get away.”

Crushed cigarette

sercansamanci/Getty Images

Poorer, less educated Americans have given up smoking much more slowly than the upper and middle classes, a report from the Washington Post found. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that while college-educated Americans reduced their smoking rate by 83 percent between 1966 and 2015, those without a high school diploma cut back by just 39 percent.

It’s not due to lack of willpower: Tobacco companies have targeted their marketing toward impoverished communities in recent years and lobbied against cigarette taxes in poor, rural states where smoking rates are highest.

Smoking rates in the U.S. by state
Courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

“[Poorer] communities are not protected like others are,” Robin Koval, president of Truth Initiative, told the Post. “They don’t have access to good health care and cessation programs. If you have a bull’s eye painted on your back, it’s harder to get away.”

The Post story follows Debbie Seals, who runs some of the few cessation classes available in southern Virginia and West Virginia. “People down here smoke because of the stress in their life,” she says. “They smoke because of money problems, family problems. It’s the one thing they have control over. The one thing that makes them feel better. And you want them to give that up? It’s the toughest thing in the world.”

See the full article for some illuminating charts.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

Share your feedback: We’re planning to launch a new version of the comments section. Help us test it.