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Stress of 9/11 Attacks Forced 1 Million Former American Smokers to Resume the Habit

First Posted: Jun 22, 2013 06:45 AM EDT

A latest finding from the Weill Cornell Medical College states that stress caused due to the devastating 9/11 attacks forced nearly 1 million Americans smokers who had given up the habit to take it up again.

This is the first study that looks into the societal cost of smoking that was a result of the terror attacks of  9/11 and 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. Prior to this another study revealed that the 9/11 terror attack stress increased the number of miscarriages among women who were carrying male babies. 

"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," study  author, Dr. Michael F. Pesko, an instructor in Weill Cornell Medical College's Department of Public Health said in a press statement.

The study researchers also highlighted the fact that other traumatizing events such as the Oklahoma City bombing did not affect the smoking rates in the U.S. but the aftermath of 9/11 led to a significant 2.3 percent increase throughout the nation. They also noticed that this increased after 9/11 and remained constant through the end of 2003.

For this study Pesko examined 1,657,985 respondents and discovered that between 950,000 and 1.3 million adult former smokers starting smoking again showing a 2.3 percent increase in adult smokers nationwide.

The communities that were involved in active duty and reserve members of military and the higher educated groups had a rise in self reported stress that forced them to take up the habit of smoking all over again.

"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 Dr. Pesko. "It sheds light on a hidden cost of terrorism.  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."

To throw more light on the association between stress and substance abuse, the researcher selected and analyzed the data from Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. This keeps a record of the rates of risky personal behavior across the nation. Every month phone surveys are conducted on the residents by the Health Departments from every state.  

During the survey the officials enquire about seat belt use, smoking and drinking habits, in addition to their last visit to the doctor or dentist. Dr Pesko also worked on the reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

 Pesko chose to analyze the self reported days of stress and according to him a bona fide stress response would be when a former smoker begins smoking again.

The estimated cost to government of 9/11-induced smoking ranged from $530 million to $830 million, and could rise if the smoking continued beyond 2003. 

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