The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.

-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

Splitting Up, Lighting Up

Bryce J. Christensen and Nicole M. King

Ever since the U.S. Surgeon General issued his report on smoking in 1964, tobacco companies have faced a stiff challenge in pushing their product. Some people, however, are still buying. Who are they? According to the authors of a study recently completed at Sapienza University of Rome, a disproportionate number are divorced men and women.

The researchers initiated their study in order to identify the social characteristics and circumstances of Italian smokers, believing that their findings would be of interest to public-health officials. After all, “Despite the preventive measures that have been implemented by various governments, tobacco smoking is still one of the major causes of avoidable illnesses and premature death in Europe [and, it might be added, the United States].”

To determine just who is lighting up in Italy, the researchers pored over data collected in 2005 from 109,829 men and women age 15 and over by the Italian National Centre of Statistics. These data indicate that whether the focus is on those who have ever smoked or on those who currently smoke, divorced and separated individuals are significantly overrepresented.

Analyzing data for Italians who have ever smoked, the researchers find that Odds Ratio for the divorced and separated runs two-thirds higher than it does among married peers (Odds Ratio of 1.667).

A similar pattern emerged in the data for Italians who are currently smokers. “Being divorced or separated,” remark the researchers, “seems 81to be a risk factor for current smoking.” The Italian scholars advance a simple explanation of the linkage between divorce and smoking: “stress factors like marital problems seem to act as an encouragement to smoke.”

But the researchers need to theorize in a different key when looking at Italians who are former smokers—that is, Italians who have kicked the habit. “Most former smokers are married,” the researchers report, noting that “smoking cessation” reflects “motivation and confidence in quitting.” Apparently, a supportive spouse can inspire such motivation and confidence.

The Italian scholars conclude their study by calling for “antismoking measures as well as information campaigns in order to reduce smoking.” But their findings would seem to suggest that the measures that may make the most difference would be those that set the wedding bells ringing and that shut the divorce courts down.

(Leda Semyonov et al., “Socioeconomic Differences in Tobacco Smoking in Italy: Is There an Interaction between Variables?” Scientific World Journal [March 2012]: 286472)