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Social Science and Medicine, 1985, 20, 1279-1280.



University of New South Wales, Australia


It is difficult to test the link between intelligence and smoking directly. A hypothetico-deductive approach is therefore used and it is hypothesized that members of the Mensa club will have low rates of smoking. A postal survey of 402 Australian Mensa members revealed incidence rates of 22% for males and 15% for females. This is roughly half the general population incidence rate in both Australia and the U.K. It is concluded that the results do support the view of smoking as a sign of general social disadvantage.


Because of its now almost universally recognized health implications, the demographics of smoking are of some interest. There is considerable evidence that smoking is a sign of general social disadvantage. In particular, smoking seems to be most common among those with lesser education and those who work in the more humble occupations [1]. There are many possible reasons for this but one reason that comes very readily to mind is that smoking is part of a larger syndrome of lack of foresight. Alternatively, the socially disadvantaged may be more susceptible to the blandishments of advertising. In either case, one would infer that those with greater intelligence would smoke less. Such people should both show more foresight and be more critical of advertising.

Testing for a relationship between intelligence and the incidence of smoking is, however, not easy. Testing for intelligence must normally be done under strictly controlled conditions that are not readily duplicated in door-to-door surveys. Therefore, although we can find out many other things about smokers in door-to-door surveys, finding out their IQ. is normally beyond our aspirations. One of the most historically prominent sources for norms for IQ. tests has been Army conscripts. It might therefore seem reasonable to include a question on smoking in the test- battery received by Army recruits and establish any relationship with that data. Unfortunately, however, the incidence of smoking varies considerably with age and sex [1] so any results from conscripts would be of suspect generalizability. Additionally, conscription seems to be rather out of fashion in much of the Western world nowadays so the only data available would be from some time back and this may not tell us much about the world today. Although the proportion of the population as a whole who smoke has changed little in recent years, there have been some quite marked changes in how the total of smokers is made up. Early-adult males, for instance, are now much more likely to smoke than they once were [1].

In this difficult situation, therefore, our best recourse would seem to be an eclectic approach: we need data from a wide variety of sources before we can begin to move towards conclusions. As in much of science, we may not be able to test a theory directly but if predictions generated by that theory are consistently confirmed then our confidence in the generalizations of that theory is much strengthened.

One useful source of data would seem to be Mensa -- the international social club for people with high IQ.s. The sole admission requirement for this club is that the candidate will have demonstrated an I.Q. in the top 2% of the population under standard testing conditions using a recognized omnibus IQ. test. If intelligence and smoking are indeed linked, we would clearly expect a very low incidence of smoking in this group.


With the kind assistance of officers of the Australian Mensa organization, a simple postcard returnable to the present author without charge to the sender was included in the December 1982 issue of Tableaus -- the Australian Mensa newsletter. 700 were sent out. The card asked three questions: how much the Mensa member smoked (i.e. No. of cigarettes, pipes etc. normally smoked per day) plus his/her age and sex. Given the simplicity of the task, a high response rate was expected.


The responses received after 6 months numbered 402. Of these, 61 out of 277 males smoked and 19 out of 125 females. These represent incidence rates of 22% and 15%. The Australia-wide incidence rates, by contrast, are 40% for males and 31% for females [1]. Mensa members are, then, only half as likely to smoke as other Australians. Given the large N involved, the difference is of course highly significant statistically (p < .001). The incidence of smoking among Mensa members was lower in all age categories for males but was lower in only 8 out of 10 age categories for females. The ns in the two deviant age categories (45-49 and 60-69) were however very small among the Mensa members (9 and 4). It would appear, then, that highly intelligent people are indeed much less likely to smoke than are others.

As the incidence of smoking in Australia is very similar to that in other countries with predominantly Northern European populations (e.g. 38% for men and 33% for women in the U.K. [2]) the present results might be expected to have some generalizability.


1. Hill D. J. and Gray N. J. (1982) Patterns of tobacco smoking in Australia. Med. J. Aust. 9 January 23-25.

2. OPCS Monitor. Reference GHS 83/3. Information branch (Department M) Office of Population Censuses and Surveys, 10 Kingsway, London, U.K. Issued 5 July 1983.

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