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Sociocultural factors may influence smoking behavior among deaf adults

Adults who lost their hearing before the age of 3 years, before they acquired facility with language (prelingually deafened), are half as likely to smoke as hearing adults, even though they have less education and lower income, factors usually associated with smoking. However, adults who became deaf later in life (postlingually deafened) smoke at about the same rate as hearing adults, according to a study supported by the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research (HS09539). Sociocultural factors may play a role in these differences, suggest Steven Barnett, M.D., and Peter Franks, M.D., of the University of Rochester.

Prelingually deafened adults usually prefer sign language and socialize with other deaf adults. And, they may have had less exposure to tobacco advertising both aurally—because of their deafness—and visually, because of their lower literacy levels relative to the general population. Also, prelingually deafened adults are more apt to be members of the deaf community, which has different sociocultural norms than the general U.S. population. In contrast, postlingually deafened adults typically prefer English, are probably more integrated into the general population, and are more apt to reflect general population trends.

Clearly, the deaf community is not one community. Previous studies that correlate various health behaviors with deafness may be misleading. Understanding why prelingually deafened adults are less likely to be smokers may enhance efforts to decrease smoking in the general population, conclude the researchers. They used data from the National Health Interview Survey Hearing Supplement in 1990 and 1991 to identify deaf adults who lost their hearing before their third birthday and those who lost it afterwards. They correlated age of onset of deafness with smoking behavior.

See "Smoking and deaf adults: Associations with age at onset of deafness," by Drs. Barnett and Franks, in the American Annals of the Deaf 144(1), pp. 44-50, 1999.

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