9/11 Led a Million People to Start Smoking Again

By McCarton Ackerman 06/21/13

Researchers attribute a 2.3% nationwide increase in smoking to stress caused by the attacks.

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Nearly 12 years after 9/11, the effects can be still felt, in many ways. A new report shows that over one million workers resumed their smoking habits after the national tragedy and have since maintained it. The study, published in yesterday's issue of Contemporary Economic Policy, suggests that 9/11 led to a 2.3% smoking increase nationwide that started after the attacks and continued at least through 2003 (when the analysis ended). Researchers also examined the effects of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, but didn't find any increase in smoking due to that event. "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," says the study's author, Dr. Michael F. Pesko, an instructor at Weill Cornell Medical College's Department of Public Health. "It sheds light on a hidden cost of terrorism. 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."

Researchers collected the findings by analyzing data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a monthly phone survey conducted by health departments in every state that tracks rates of risky personal behavior across the nation. The increase in stress following 9/11 was found to account for all of the increase in smoking, while self-reported stress was also found to increase more profoundly in communities with a higher concentration of active-duty and reserve members of the military, and among higher-educated groups. Pesko estimates 9/11-induced smoking has cost up to $530 - 830 million, and potentially higher if the smoking continued beyond 2003. Projected costs include changes in the use of Medicare and Medicaid, productivity losses associated to illness from smoking, and decreased tax revenue linked to lost work. He proposes public health responses to future stress-inducing events, including free nicotine replacement therapy and substance abuse screening during routine medical appointments following terrorist attacks.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.