In recent years, addictions policy has stressed the need to counteract stigmatization in order to promote public health. However, as recent observers have noted, through the widespread implementation of tobacco 'denormalization' strategies, tobacco control advocates appear to have embraced the use of stigma as an explicit policy tool. In a recent article, Ronald Bayer (2008) argues that the mobilization of stigma may effectively reduce the prevalence of smoking behaviors linked to tobacco-related morbidity and mortality and is therefore not necessarily antithetical to public health goals. This commentary takes up this question of whether stigmatizing smoking may ultimately serve the interests of public health. Through an examination of the unique contours of tobacco control policy, we suggest that stigmatizing smoking will not ultimately help to reduce smoking prevalence amongst disadvantaged smokers - who now represent the majority of tobacco users. Rather, it is likely to exacerbate health-related inequalities by limiting smokers' access to healthcare and inhibiting smoking cessation efforts in primary care settings.
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