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9/11 stress linked to resurgence in smoking

June 23, 2013
Courtesy of Weill Cornell Medical College
and World Science staff

The Sept. 11, 2001 at­tacks seem to have led about a mil­lion form­er smok­ers across the Un­ited States to re­sume smok­ing, a study in­di­cates.

“This helps us bet­ter un­der­stand what the real costs of such dis­as­ters are in hu­man and eco­nom­ic tolls, and it sug­gests ways that such fu­ture stress­ful re­ac­tions that re­sult in ex­cess smok­ing might be avoid­ed,” said the stu­dy’s au­thor, Mi­chael F. Pesko of Weill Cor­nell Med­i­cal Col­lege in New York.

Pesko sug­gests that 9/11 caused a 2.3 per­cent in­crease na­t­ion­wide, which con­tin­ued through the end of 2003, when anal­y­sis of the da­ta ended, he said.

Self-re­ported stress was al­so found to es­pe­cially in­crease in com­mun­i­ties with a high­er con­centra­t­ion of active-duty and re­serve mem­bers of the mil­i­tary, and among higher-educated groups. The in­crease in stress fol­low­ing 9/11 was found to ac­count for all the in­crease in smok­ing.

“This study pro­vides the first un­bi­ased es­ti­mate of the ef­fect of stress on smok­ing, and the find­ing that there was such a big in­crease in smok­ing na­t­ion­wide, seem­ingly due to one event, is ex­tra­or­di­nary, and sur­pris­ing,” said Pesko. “It sheds light on a hid­den cost of ter­ror­is­m.”

Pesko has long been in­ter­est­ed in the rela­t­ion­ship be­tween stress and sub­stance abuse. “There is a con­sen­sus in the re­search com­mun­ity that stress is a very large mo­ti­va­tor for in­di­vid­u­als to use sub­stances, but this has not really been stud­ied very thor­ough­ly,” he said.

The anal­y­sis is pub­lished in the June 20 is­sue of the jour­nal Con­tem­po­rary Eco­nom­ic Pol­i­cy.

Pesko ex­am­ined da­ta from the Be­hav­ior­al Risk Fac­tor Sur­veil­lance Sys­tem, which tracks an­nu­al rates of risky per­son­al be­hav­ior across the na­t­ion. Health de­part­ments in every state con­duct monthly phone sur­veys of res­i­dents, ask­ing about seat-belt use, smok­ing and drink­ing habits, the last time they vis­ited a doc­tor or den­tist, etc. The U.S. Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­vention then ag­gre­gates that da­ta and ex­trapolates it in­to an an­nu­al re­port.


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The Sept. 11, 2001 attacks seem to have led about a million former smokers across the United States to resume smoking, a study indicates. “This helps us better understand what the real costs of such disasters are in human and economic tolls, and it suggests ways that such future stressful reactions that result in excess smoking might be avoided,” said the study’s author, Michael F. Pesko of Weill Cornell Medical College in New York. Pesko suggests that 9/11 caused a 2.3 percent increase nationwide, which continued through the end of 2003, when analysis of the data ended, he said. Self-reported stress was also found to especially increase in communities with a higher concentration of active-duty and reserve members of the military, and among higher-educated groups. The increase in stress following 9/11 was found to account for all the increase in smoking. “This study provides the first unbiased estimate of the effect of stress on smoking, and the finding that there was such a big increase in smoking nationwide, seemingly due to one event, is extraordinary, and surprising,” said Pesko. “It sheds light on a hidden cost of terrorism.” Pesko has long been interested in the relationship between stress and substance abuse. “There is a consensus in the research community that stress is a very large motivator for individuals to use substances, but this has not really been studied very thoroughly,” he said. The analysis is published in the June 20 issue of the journal Contemporary Economic Policy. Pesko examined data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, which tracks annual rates of risky personal behavior across the nation. Health departments in every state conduct monthly phone surveys of residents, asking about seat-belt use, smoking and drinking habits, the last time they visited a doctor or dentist, etc. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention then aggregates that data and extrapolates it into an annual report.