Aug 15, 2018 | Updated: 01:42 PM EDT

Smokers Less Likely to Vote As They Become Increasingly Marginalized

May 21, 2015 10:10 PM EDT

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Smokers and 60 percent less likely to vote compared to non-smokers and researchers believe that one possibility of the reason is the increased marginalization of the group.

The new study was performed by researchers at the University of Colorado at Denver's Cancer Center say their study is the first to demonstrate an association between smoking and lower participation in the electoral process.

"We know from previous research that smokers are an increasingly marginalized population, involved in fewer organizations and activities and with less interpersonal trust than nonsmokers," says Karen Albright, first author of the study appearing in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research.

"But what our research suggests is that this marginalization may also extend beyond the interpersonal level to attitudes toward political systems and institutions," she says.

The study was based on an analysis of data collected in the Colorado Tobacco Attitudes and Behaviors Study.  For the study, more than 11,600 people were surveyed by telephone on an assortment of behavioral, social and demographic factors.  Included in the poll were questions regarding smoking behavior and whether or not respondents had gone to vote in any recent elections.

Seventeen percent of those surveyed said they were smokers, and after adjusting for other variables including socioeconomic status strongly associated with tobacco use, researchers found that those who smoked daily were 60 percent less likely to vote than their nonsmoking counterparts. 

The study didn't attempt to answer exactly why smokers are less likely to vote, the researchers acknowledge, although an earlier Swedish study found a significant association between smoking and a significant level of political mistrust.

The latest trend of higher tobacco taxes and laws banning smoking may have smokers regarding political institutions as overly oppressive, the researchers suggest.

On top of that, the strong stigma that has become linked to smoking may be driving the withdrawal of smokers from social processes and depression among smokers, and that may also decrease their desire to vote.

An analysis of more recent C-TABS data should allow for a more qualitative look at the attitudes of smokers to the political system, the researchers say.  

"We're getting a clearer picture of the 'what' and soon I hope it will be time to talk to individual smokers in these populations to start exploring the 'why'," Albright says.

While we must wait for a clearer picture regarding smokers and the political process, it is clear that this group feels marginalized and has begun to withdraw from many of the social processes associated with life, and now as they refuse to vote, this small segment of the population could continue to feel this way in the years ahead.

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