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There is a well-established social gradient in smoking, but little is known about the underlying behavioral mechanisms. Here, we take a social-ecological perspective by examining daily stress experience as a process linking social disadvantage to smoking behavior.
A sample of 194 daily smokers, who were not attempting to quit, recorded their smoking and information about situational and contextual factors for three weeks using an electronic diary. We tested whether socioeconomic disadvantage (indicated by educational attainment, income and race) exerts indirect effects on smoking (cigarettes per day) via daily stress. Stress experience was assessed at the end of each day using Ecological Momentary Assessment methods. Data were analyzed using random effects regression with a lower-level (2-1-1) mediation model.
On the within-person level lower educated and African American smokers reported significantly more daily stress across the monitoring period, which in turn was associated with more smoking. This resulted in a small significant indirect effect of daily stress experience on social disadvantage and smoking when using education and race as indicator for social disadvantage. No such effects were found when for income as indicator for social disadvantage.
These findings highlight the potential for future studies investigating behavioral mechanisms underlying smoking disparities. Such information would aid in the development and improvement of interventions to reduce social inequality in smoking rates and smoking rates in general.