Struggling with poverty, hunger and caught in tobacco’s grip

The Philadelphia InquirerOctober 19, 2013 


Lindell Harvey, photographed at his home in Crum Lynne, Pa., Oct. 11, smokes two packs a day, had just finished his last cigarette, and said he couldn't afford any more until next month.


— Many people smoke after they’ve eaten. Lindell Harvey smokes because he hasn’t.

“You smoke out of anxiety because you don’t have the food you need,” said Harvey, 54, who lives alone in Crum Lynne, Pa. He receives disability checks from the Navy that keep him $2,000 below the poverty line.

Harvey relies on his Newports to see him through his hard days. “In my mind, the smoking becomes a comfort as I try to create ways to get food.”

In lives where people endure a dearth of nearly everything important – food, jobs, medical care, a safe place to live – the poor suffer an abundance of one thing:


The poor are more likely to smoke than those above the poverty line.

In Philadelphia, there’s a 50 percent higher prevalence of smoking among the poor than among the non-poor, according to Giridhar Mallya, director of policy and planning for the Philadelphia Department of Public Health.

Lower-income neighborhoods such as Kensington, Bridesburg and Port Richmond are among the city’s most smoker-prevalent neighborhoods, department research shows.

The poor smoke to manage high levels of stress and depression, Mallya said, as much a part of poverty as empty pockets.

It’s also harder for the poor to get smoking-cessation counseling and nicotine patches than others who may receive help through insurance, experts said.

Even as health insurance comes to the poor through the Affordable Care Act, smoking remains a problem: Smokers may be charged a premium of up to 50 percent.

Smoking is also a way to deal with hunger, Chilton said. Families without enough to eat are more likely to smoke than food-secure families, she said.

“Smoking treats hunger pangs,” Chilton said. “Instead of having lunch, mothers will feed their children, then smoke.”

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