Emerging evidence from neuroscience and clinical research suggests a novel hypothesis about tobacco use: consumers may choose to smoke, in part, as a "self-medicating" response to the presence of economic insecurity. To test this hypothesis, we examine the effect of economic insecurity (roughly, the risk of catastrophic income loss) on the smoking behavior of a sample of male working-age smokers from the 1979 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY79). Using instrumental variables to control for unobserved heterogeneity, we find that economic insecurity has a large and statistically significant positive effect on the decision to continue or resume smoking. Our results indicate, for example, that a 1 percent increase in the probability of becoming unemployed causes an individual to be 2.4 percent more likely to continue smoking. We find that the explanatory power of economic insecurity in predicting tobacco use is comparable to (but distinct from) household income, a more commonly used metric.
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