pp 1–29 | Cite as

Moving Upstream: The Effect of Tobacco Clean Air Restrictions on Educational Inequalities in Smoking Among Young Adults

  • Elaine M. HernandezEmail author
  • Mike Vuolo
  • Laura C. Frizzell
  • Brian C. Kelly


Education affords a range of direct and indirect benefits that promote longer and healthier lives and stratify health lifestyles. We use tobacco clean air policies to examine whether policies that apply universally—interventions that bypass individuals’ unequal access and ability to employ flexible resources to avoid health hazards—have an effect on educational inequalities in health behaviors. We test theoretically informed but competing hypotheses that these policies either amplify or attenuate the association between education and smoking behavior. Our results provide evidence that interventions that move upstream to apply universally regardless of individual educational attainment—here, tobacco clean air policies—are particularly effective among young adults with the lowest levels of parental or individual educational attainment. These findings provide important evidence that upstream approaches may disrupt persistent educational inequalities in health behaviors. In doing so, they provide opportunities to intervene on behaviors in early adulthood that contribute to disparities in morbidity and mortality later in the life course. These findings also help assuage concerns that tobacco clean air policies increase educational inequalities in smoking by stigmatizing those with the fewest resources.


Education Smoking bans Tobacco Use Health inequality Policy intervention 



This work was supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (Grant #R03DA034933; PI: Vuolo). This research was conducted with restricted access to Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data. The authors would like to thank the staff at the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation (ANRF), particularly Maggie Hopkins and Laura Walpert. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the BLS, NIDA, or ANRF. We also thank Joy Kadowaki, Emily Harris, Alexandra Marin, Jake Brosius, and Emily Ekl for research assistance, and Andrew Halpern-Manners for feedback on early drafts. Versions of this research have been presented at the 2018 annual meetings of the Population Association of America and the Society for Longitudinal and Life Course Studies.

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Copyright information

© Population Association of America 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Elaine M. Hernandez
    • 1
    Email author
  • Mike Vuolo
    • 2
  • Laura C. Frizzell
    • 2
  • Brian C. Kelly
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of SociologyIndiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA
  2. 2.Department of SociologyThe Ohio State UniversityColumbusUSA
  3. 3.Department of SociologyPurdue UniversityWest LafayetteUSA

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