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Smoking Keeps Its Grip on Urban Poor
Date:10/16/2009

and Public Health and the Salvation Army, sent five interviewers door-to-door in two of Milwaukee's poorest ZIP codes.

Interviews were conducted primarily between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. on weekdays, catching the "poorest of the poor," those who don't work. Many in the group would be hard to capture in a regular survey as they often don't have phones, Christiansen said.

Responses from 654 smokers living in low-income neighborhoods revealed the following:

  • People who smoked thought most other people smoked as well and, when asked, said that 73 percent of adults smoked, way higher than the 20 percent who actually do.
  • Almost two-thirds thought it was okay to smoke as long as it didn't impinge on others.
  • Almost half thought that medications intended to help people quit smoking were actually more dangerous and addictive than cigarettes.
  • More than half (56 percent) had never heard of the free Wisconsin Tobacco Quit Line despite efforts to promote the service. In fact, Christiansen noted, some respondents said that going to jail was the best way to quit (at least temporarily).
  • Thirty-eight percent had never actually tried to dispense of the habit. "It was amazing how many people said they hadn't tried to quit," Christiansen said. "They thought that everyone is doing it so it's okay."

Christiansen and his colleagues haven't finished analyzing the results yet but want to take the research a step further. "Can we change beliefs and, if we can change them, does that increase uptake of [quit-smoking] treatment?" he wondered. "Then we'll look at what it takes to change beliefs."

Christiansen's group has started an initiative called "Tobacco-Free Advocates," which trains individuals in the community to bring short (10-minute) messages to local groups.

"They talk about willpower, that it's a muscle you can build, dealing with urges, that medications ca
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