If I ran the Federal scary anti-smoking image warning program, I might show smokers the list of health-related terms that show up most in the states with the highest cigarette smoking rates.

If you take the smoking rates by state, and throw them into the Google Correlate hopper, you can see the 100 search terms that are most highly correlated with that reported smoking behavior. That is, the terms that are most likely to be used in high-smoking states and least likely to be used in the low-smoking states.

Is the result just a lot of noise? Maybe, but I don’t think so. Here are the smoking-related terms in the top 100:

  • camel no 9
  • cigarette coupon
  • cigarette coupons
  • marlboro coupons
  • my time to quit
  • safe cigarettes
  • stopping smoking
  • time to quit
  • fire safe cigarettes
  • ways to stop smoking

So that’s good for face validity — a list of random search terms isn’t likely to have all those smoking terms on it.

But after the smoking terms, the thing that jumps out is the health-related terms. We know from the Google flu tracker that people search for their symptoms. So these caught my eye.

Here is a screen shot of the first page of results:

I selected “stages of copd” as the term to map. The map on the left is the smoking rates; the one on the right is the relative frequency of searches for “stages of copd.” That is, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a nasty disease the most common cause of which is smoking.

Here is the complete list of health-related terms among the top-100 correlates with smoking rates:

Lymph node swelling, which is implicated in the jaw and neck searches, most often reflects infection — which smoking causes.

How strong are the connections? They’re not the strongest I’ve seen on Google Correlate. The “stages of copd” search is correlated with smoking rates at .77 on a scale of 0 to 1. It’s not uncommon to find correlations of .93 (which is the relationship between “quiche” and “volvo v70 xc”).

But considering the smoking rates come from a sample survey (the National Survey on Drug Use and Health) which includes random error, and states are somewhat arbitrary geographic units, that correlation seems pretty high to me. Here’s the scatterplot:

What is the correlation causality story here? I can’t say. But the simplest explanation is that these are the terms smokers (and maybe those who know or care for them) are most likely to Google relative to non-smokers — not that they are the most common searches smokers do, of course, but the searches that differentiate them from non-smokers. The simplest explanation is the best place to start.

I like this list of conditions because in my experience smokers sometimes have the attitude of “you have to die of something.” But it’s not just the chance of dying that smoking increases — it’s a lot of possible forms of suffering along the way.


The Google Correlate tool is showing the great potential for using Internet search activity to investigate layers of behavior and meaning behind other observable social phenomena, such as race/ethnic compositionhealth behavior, and family patterns.

Cross-posted from Family Inequality.

The Supreme Court’s decision in the Dukes v. Wal-Mart case, Justice Scalia acknowledged that Wal-Mart’s many local managers had a lot of discretion in their personnel decisions, even though the company had a written policy against gender discrimination (who doesn’t?). But he gave the company credit for a vague policy and let it off the hook for a systematic pattern of disparity between men and women. So, when does a toothless, vague policy with wide discretion lead to a bad outcome, and is failing to prevent it the same as causing it?

A path-breaking sociological analysis of organizational affirmative action outcomes has shown that the companies that successfully diversify their management are most likely to have policies with teeth – where accountability is built into the diversity goal. In light of the Wal-Mart case, this led to a rollicking debate about how to think about “corporate culture” versus policies, and when to blame whom, legally or otherwise – which even divided sociologists.

Smoking in the movies

Here’s an interesting, at-least-vaguely related case. Positive depictions of smoking in the movies are widely understood to be harmful. Yet, smoking is also glamorous, artistic, and popular – representing both anti-adult rebellion and maturity. So, what to do? The Centers for Disease Control, in the always-riveting Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, has published a fascinating report on this topic. They report the number of tobacco incidents* in top-grossing, youth-rated (G, PG, PG-13) movies, and divide them between those that implemented an anti-tobacco policy and those that didn’t — helpfully cutting the movie industry roughly in half — and provide a simple before-and-after tabulation:

From 2005 to 2010, among the three major motion picture companies (half of the six members of the Motion Picture Association of America [MPAA]) with policies aimed at reducing tobacco use in their movies, the number of tobacco incidents per youth-rated movie decreased 95.8%, from an average of 23.1 incidents per movie to an average of 1.0 incident. For independent companies (which are not MPAA members) and the three MPAA members with no antitobacco policies, tobacco incidents decreased 41.7%, from an average of 17.9 incidents per youth-rated movie in 2005 to 10.4 in 2010, a 10-fold higher rate than the rate for the companies with policies. Among the three companies with antitobacco policies, 88.2% of their top-grossing movies had no tobacco incidents, compared with 57.4% of movies among companies without policies.

The difference is dramatic, as indicated by this image about the images. (Because I turned the columns into cigarettes, this is not just a graph, but an infographic):


The policies provide what may be an ideal mix of accountability and responsibility, short of a simplistic ban.

[The policies] provide for review of scripts, story boards, daily footage, rough cuts, and the final edited film by managers in each studio with the authority to implement the policies. However, although the three companies have eliminated depictions of tobacco use almost entirely from their G, PG, and PG-13 movies, as of June 2011 none of the three policies completely banned smoking or other tobacco imagery in the youth-rated films that they produced or distributed.

Maybe this formula is effective because there already has been a strong cultural shift against smoking — as strong, even, as the shift against excluding women from management positions?

Graphic addendum (disturbing image below)

Whether smoking in movies actually encourages young people to take up smoking is of course a not a settled issue — especially on websites sponsored by tobacco sellers, as seen in this ironic screen-shot from Smokers News:


One reason to have an explicit policy is that it’s easy to assume viewers will see through the glamour to the negative outcomes. “Surely no one will want to be like that character…” But people – maybe especially young people? – have an amazing capacity to celebrate selectively from the characters they see. I have learned from experience that, in children’s stories, even those who get their comeuppance in the end still manage to emerge as role models for their bad behavior. So maybe some people want to relive this from Pulp Fiction…

…and aren’t put off by this:


* “A new incident occurred each time 1) a tobacco product went off screen and then back on screen, 2) a different actor was shown with a tobacco product, or 3) a scene changed, and the new scene contained the use or implied off-screen use of a tobacco product.”

Kristina K. sent in a link to an interactive map at the New York Times that shows the results of Gallup’s 2010 polls of well-being. [UPDATE: Reader Danielle pointed out I forgot to provide a link to the map. Sorry! You can find it here.] Gallup surveys 1,000 people per day about a variety of indicators of well-being, including questions about physical, mental, and emotional health, various health-related behaviors, ability to access health care, access to adequate food and housing, and perceptions of their communities. Here are the overall composite scores, by congressional district (a higher score is better):


The general geographic pattern indicates a swath of relatively low well-being curving from Louisiana up through Michigan, while those in the upper Great Plains and the inter-mountain West are doing better than average.

Percent reporting experiencing a lot of stress:

Percent who have ever been told they have depression:

Of course, this may reflect differences in rates of depression, but it could also reflect differences in medical professionals’ likelihood of identifying a set of symptoms as depression and bringing it up with a patient. For example, we see significant differences by state in the frequency of Caesarean sections among pregnant women.

Percent of people who smoke:

Percent reporting an inability to buy sufficient food:

The Gallup page on well-being presents more data. Here is a map of 2009 overall well-being that is a bit easier to read since it’s presented by state rather than congressional district:

Hawaii had the highest overall score, at 70.2; West Virginia had the lowest, 60.5. If you go to their site and click on a state, you can get a breakdown of scores in each area (emotional well-being, physical health, healthy behaviors, and so on).

Finally, the NYT provides some demographic information on who was most likely to have said they spent a lot of the previous day laughing or smiling vs. being sad:

Iconic Photos documents at least two instances in which the U.S. postal service rewrote history, so to speak, taking smoking out of the stamp:

Pollack and Johnson are important figures in American history, who smoked before it carried the stigma it carries today, and whose smoking represents the time and culture that inspired their genius.  How do you balance the desire to be historically accurate and true to the individual, with the desire to avoid endorsing a habit newly framed as a social problem?

Via BoingBoing.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Last week I stopped in the candy store on State St. in Madison, WI only to discover a product that I remember consuming as a kid, but thought had been banned in the U.S. years ago: tobacco-themed candy.

According to wikipedia, candy cigarettes (I’m not sure about the other products) are banned in Finland, Norway, Ireland, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia; Canada has banned packaging that resembles real cigarettes.  A U.S. ban was proposed in 1970 and again in 1991, but it failed to pass in both instances.

I do remember feeling cool, as a kid, when I pretended to smoke them.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

These vintage Lucky Strike cigarette ads posted at the Stanford  School of Medicine collection tell both women and men that they can lose weight if they reach for a smoke instead of a sweet

I’ve never seen any contemporary cigarette advertising using this idea to sell to men; but we have and do see the “slims” meme in advertising cigarettes to women.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

In this vintage ad, smoking tobacco is linked with a (rewritten) Thanksgiving history:


See also our vintage ads marketing cigarettes with Christmas.

From Vintage Ads.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Elizabeth McM. sent in this Life magazine ad from 1936 in which Camel cigarettes are argued to facilitate digestion.  Accordingly, you should smoke at least one between every course!  The ad (text below):

fordigestionssakeI am hard pressed to imagine that such an ad would fly today.  That these ads would not only be un-palatable, but impermissible, is evidence that the power of corporations is not absolute.


Thanksgiving Dinner… and then the peaceful feeling that comes from good digestion and smoking Camels!

OFF TO A GOOD START — with hot spiced tomato soup.  And then–for digestion’s sake–smoke a Camel right after the soup.

THE MAIN EVENT — The time-honoured turkey of our forefathers–done to a crisp and golden brown–and flanked by a mountain of ruby cranberry jelly.  By all means enjoy a second helping.  But before you do–smoke another Camel.  Camels ease tension.  Speed up the flow of digestive fluids.  Increase alkalinity.  Help your digestion to run smoothly.

DOUBLE PAUSE — First–for the crisp refreshment of a Waldorf Salad–then–once again, for the sheer pleasure of Camel’s costlier tobaccos.  This double pause clears the palate–and sets the stage for desert.

WHAT WILL YOU HAVE FOR DESSERT? Reading in a circle, there’s luscious Pumpkin Pie… Mince Pie a la mode… layer cake with inch-deep icing… a piping-hot Plum Pudding… and Camels to add the final touch of comfort and good cheer.  For when digestion proceeds smoothly,  you experience a sense of ease and well-being.

SO TO A HAPPY ENDING — over coffee and your after-dinner Camels.  Enjoy Camels–every mealtime–between courses and after eating–and you can lean back in your chair feeling on top of the world.


FOOD EDITOR — Miss Dorothy Malone says: “It’s smart to have Camels on the table.  My own personal experience is that smoking Camels with my meals and afterwards builds up a sense of digestive well-being.”

“THE BEST MEAL I ever ate would be a disappointment if I coldn’t enjoy Camels,” says William H. Ferguson, salesman. “I smoke Camels as an aid to digestion.  There’s nothing like Camel’s to set you right.”

Good food and good tobacco go together naturally!

Right down the line–from explorers living on “iron rations” to the millions of men and women who’ll heartily enjoy a big Thanksgiving dinner–it is agreed that Camels set you right!  You enjoy more food more and have a feeling of greater ease after eating when you smoke Camels between courses and after meals.

Enjoy Camels all you wish–all through the day.  Camel’s costlier tobaccos as supremely mild.  Steady smokers say that Camel’s never tire the taste or get on the nerves.  And when you’re tired, try this: get a “lift” with a Camel!


Camels are made from finer, MORE EXPENSIVE TOBACCOS . . . Turkish and Domestic . . . than any other popular brand.


Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.