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A Bachelor’s Degree for Quitting Smoking?

For Nora King, a former chain-smoker with a master’s degree, it was neither a harrowing visit to her doctor nor a disturbing news article on the latest findings about the damage of cigarettes that caused her to put down her smokes once and for all.

It was a television commercial she saw a year ago in her New York City apartment that vividly illustrated what goes on inside a smoker’s body that made her decide to try to quit though a new study suggests the academic work she did years ago may have helped, too.

“The commercial showed the white stuff that builds up in smokers’ arteries,” King, 44, said. “It was really graphic and gross, and I would turn my head every time it came on.”

Visual images in stop-smoking ads have been a mainstay of stop smoking campaigns for years, but researchers at the University of Wisconsin recently found they may be more effective helping those with a college degree than those with a high school diploma or only some college.

“Smoking rates have declined steadily since 1966 for college-educated smokers with some college, but they have declined far more slowly for people who have high school, and we wanted to know why that is,” said Dr. Jeff Niederdeppe, a researcher at the University of Wisconsin’s department of population health sciences and an author of the study.

Cigarette smoking has declined among adults in the United States from about 42 percent of the population in 1965 to about 21 percent in 2005 (the latest year for which numbers are available), according to the American Cancer Society. Figures from the society’s Web site show that about 45 million adults currently smoke cigarettes – and 24 percent of men and 18 percent of women are smokers.

For their study, Niederdeppe’s team interviewed a representative sample of smokers: some who had a college degree, some who had some college experience, and some who had a high school diploma.The smokers all saw stop smoking ads, and a year later, the research team then came back and interviewed the same group to see who had tried to quit and who had been able to quit in that period.

“Some type of media messages were less effective for people with lower levels of education,” Nierderdeppe said, “but we weren’t able to say definitively why that is.”

He said that the greatest discrepancy between groups trying to quit occurred based on the type of ad that encouraged the smoker to keep trying to quit, even though it’s hard, and they can call a helpline for support.

“We saw a big difference between education levels for the keep-trying-to-quit ads,” Niederdeppe said.

A reason Americans without a college degree responded less to the stop smoking ads is because education is tied to socioeconomic status and less-educated smokers may have less access to quit resources and may be less likely to be given medications to quit, Niederdeppe said.

The essence of the ads that college-educated smokers responded to, “If you keep trying to quit, you can do it,” may not be true for smokers who are in a lower socioeconomic status, said Niederdeppe.

“This message may not resonate with their experience,” he said. “Higher educated people have much more resources, social resources, and environments that restrict smoking.”

Nancy DiMartino, 61, who has some college but no degree, said commercials haven’t helped her quit.

“There’s an old saying: nothing scares an addict,” she said.

Picture of Graduation CapDiMartino, a former transcribing legal secretary who took several college credits to become certified, said, cigarettes help her deaden her emotions, so she’s out the door to the store to buy cigarettes as soon as she feels a negative emotion coming on.

“Cigarettes numb me out like alcohol does for an alcoholic, or drugs do for a drug addict,” she said.

Although her father died of emphysema, DiMartino said that the powerful chokehold nicotine has on her, physically as well as mentally, has made quitting a seemingly impossible task.

She successfully managed to quit for five years, but it didn’t last. One recent Christmas Eve, after she lost her job with a government agency, she was mugged.

The stress proved to be too much, and DiMartino picked up where she had left off.

Even when one of her grandchildren saw her smoking and began to cry, begging her to stop smoking, she has been unable to leave the habit behind for a second time.

DiMartino knows what kind of danger she is putting herself in by continuing to smoke.

“I have carpal tunnel syndrome and it’s getting worse,” she said. “I know I could wind up on an oxygen tank. But whenever I see those ads, I think that this could never happen to me,” she said.

Source: The Modesto Bee
Original source: Jessica Freiman, Columbia News Service