Smokers’ increased risk for disability pension: social confounding or health-mediated effects? Gender-specific analyses of the Hordaland Health Study cohort

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Studies indicate that cigarette smokers have an increased risk for disability pension, presumably mediated by adverse health effects. However, smoking is also related to socioeconomic status. The current study examined the association between smoking and subsequent disability pension, and whether the association is explained by social confounding and/or health-related mediation.


A subsample of 7934 men and 8488 women, aged 40–46, from the Hordaland Health Study, Norway (1997–1999), provided baseline information on smoking status, self-reported health measures and socioeconomic status. Outcome was register-based disability pension from 12 months after baseline to end of 2004. Gender stratified Cox regression analyses were used adjusted for socioeconomic status, physical activity, self-reported health and musculoskeletal pain sites.


A total of 155 (2%) men and 333 (3.9%) women were granted disability pension during follow-up. The unadjusted disability risk associated with heavy smoking versus non-smoking was 1.88 (95% CI 1.23 to 2.89) among men and 3.06 (95% CI 2.23 to 4.20) among women. In multivariate analyses, adjusting for socioeconomic status, HRs were 1.33 (95% CI 0.84 to 2.11) among men and 2.22 (95% CI 1.58 to 3.13) among women. Final adjustment for physical activity, self-reported health and musculoskeletal pain further reduced the effect of heavy smoking in women (HR=1.53, 95% CI 1.09 to 2.16).


Socioeconomic status confounded the smoking-related risk for disability pension; for female heavy smokers, however, a significant increased risk persisted after adjustment. Women may be particularly vulnerable to heavy smoking and to its sociomedical consequences, such as disability pension.

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