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Smoking Rate Among Blacks Still High Despite Overall Decline

Armen Hareyan's picture

Although smoking rates have declined overall, recent research showsthat smoking remains "far more common among the poor of all races," theNew York Times reports. An American Journal of Public Health study by Frances Stillman of Johns Hopkins University's School of Public Healthand colleagues found that among 160 blacks ages 18 to 24 who wereenrolled in a job training program in Baltimore, 60% smoked cigarettesand 24% had recently smoked cigarillos, such as Black and Milds, whichcome in flavors like wine, cream and apple. A similar studyof 1,021 low-income blacks in Detroit showed that 59% of men and 41% ofwomen smoked. Jorge Delva of the University of Michigan School of Social Work -- who conducted the study, which was published in 2005 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine-- and other experts said that the surveys showed unexpectedly highsmoking rates among blacks, which could mean that blacks wereundercounted in other surveys.

Seventy-five percent of blacksnationwide smoke menthol cigarettes, compared with less than 30% ofwhites nationwide. Cigarette companies disproportionately spend theiradvertising budgets promoting menthol cigarettes, according to GregoryConnolly, director of tobacco control research at the HarvardUniversity School of Public Health.Connolly said, "It appears the industry is targeting the mostvulnerable groups through advertising and manipulation of menthollevels."

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Lorillard Tobacco-- which makes Newports, a menthol cigarette -- said its marketing isdirected at "all adult smokers." Fifty-one percent of Newport buyersare black, the Times reports.

Baltimore Meeting

In related news, health experts, community leaders and high schoolstudents gathered on Oct. 15 to discuss increased use of cigarillos.Baltimore Health Commissioner Joshua Sharfstein, who called themeeting, said that smoking among black youth might not seem asimportant compared with violence and other issues. He added, "But ifyou take a step back, it's the smoking that will end up killing a lotof these kids, maybe not next week but well ahead of their time." Thecity has begun offering no-cost nicotine patches and gum, and officialsalso are considering restrictions on single-sale cigarettes andcigarillos.

Stillman said, "The whole issue here is that thesocial norms haven't changed the way they have in most of society.Everybody smokes and everybody thinks it's OK" (Eckholm, New York Times, 10/20).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view theentire Kaiser WeeklyHealth Disparities Report,search the archives, and sign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email. The Kaiser Weekly Health Disparities Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, afree service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.