Living in green neighborhoods linked to lower rates of smoking

Research showed people were 20% less likely to be current smokers and up to 12% more likely to successfully quit.

A first of its kind study by the University of Plymouth has demonstrated that access to neighborhood greenspace is linked to lower rates of current smoking and higher chances of quitting. This happens due to higher rates of smoking cessation rather than lower uptake in these areas.

Scientists used the data through the Health Survey for England (HSE), conducted annually on behalf of the UK Office for National Statistics, and examined the responses of more than 8,000 adults to questions about their health, where they lived, and various other lifestyle factors.

19% of respondents described themselves as current smokers, while almost half (45%) said they had regularly smoked at some point during their lives.

However, even after considering other factors known to influence smoking, people living in areas with a high proportion of greenspace were 20% less likely to be current smokers than those in less green areas.

What’s more, among people who had smoked eventually during their lives, those living in greener areas were up to 12% more likely to have effectively stopped smoking.

The creators propose that improving access to greenspace may establish an overlooked public well-being strategy for reducing smoking prevalence, particularly because smoking uptake and cessation are influenced by stress.

Leanne Martin, from the University of Plymouth, the lead author on all three studies, said: “This study is the first to investigate the association between neighbourhood green space and smoking behaviors in England. Its findings support the need to protect and invest in natural resources – in both urban and more rural communities – in order to maximize the public health benefits they may afford. If our findings are substantiated by further work, nature-based interventions could be prescribed to assist individuals attempting to give up smoking.”

Scientists also determined whether the link between greenspace and smoking was affected by socioeconomic status and neighborhood deprivation. No such impacts were found.

Scientists noted, “this suggests that high greenspace neighborhoods are independently associated with a lower prevalence of current smoking, irrespective of the socio-demographic characteristics of the individuals who reside in them.”

Co-author Mathew White, a Senior Scientist at the University of Vienna and Honorary Associate Professor at the University of Exeter said: “Despite a decline in prevalence within the general population over the last decade, smoking remains a devastating and global public health issue. Governments worldwideworldwide spend billions each year trying to tackle it, both in an attempt to improve public health and reduce the strain on health services. This study emphasizes the need to preserve existing green spaces and expand the development of new ones.”

Co-author Sabine Pahl, Professor of Urban and Environmental Psychology at the University of Vienna and Honorary Professor of Applied Social Psychology at the University of Plymouth, added“While there is now considerable evidence that natural spaces are associated with stress reduction and better well-being, this is the first study to my knowledge to show that more greenspace is also linked to a reduction in unhealthy behaviours. This is intriguing and suggests that the benefits of natural green and blue spaces may reach even further than initially thought.”

Journal Reference:
  1. Leanne Martin et al. Neighbourhood greenspace and smoking prevalence: Results from a nationally representative survey in England. DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2020.113448

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