Cigarette Smoking Rates Much Higher for Low Income African Americans

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Smoking and Disease

A new study shows that the rate of smoking is higher among low-income African-Americans and that they are starting to smoke at younger ages than in the past.

Fifty-nine percent of low-income men and 41 percent of women smoked in this study of 1,021 low-income African-Americans, published in the current issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

"When we found these rates, we were dumbfounded," says Jorge Delva, Ph.D., associate professor at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

The incidence of smoking is decreasing in the general population, he notes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 21.6 percent of U.S. adults are current smokers.

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In this study, participants in a large study on dental health in low-income families were asked about various health topics, including their smoking habits, in face-to-face interviews. Anyone who had smoked more than 100 cigarettes in his or her lifetime and who currently smokes was considered to be a smoker.

Older participants in the study were found to be more likely to smoke than those under age 21. Half of those who had not graduated from high school smoked, compared with 33.5 percent of those who graduated and 36.7 percent of those who had some college education.

Smokers were also asked how many years they have been smoking. Participants over age 30 gave information suggesting that they had started smoking in their late teens or early 20s. However, participants aged 14 to 20 and 21 to 30 said they had been smoking for about 5 to 6 years, which means they started smoking in their early to mid teens.

These new findings suggest that poorer African-Americans are more likely to suffer from tobacco-related illnesses and that this burden will rise.

This prevalence is extremely high, but consistent with national data, Delva says. "There is definitely a need to conduct more research on smoking in African Americans to understand this phenomenon," he adds.

The study was conducted by the Detroit Center for Research on Oral Health Disparities.

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