Recent Research Shows Smoking Rate Among Blacks Still High Despite Overall Decline
Although smoking rates have declined overall, recent research shows that smoking remains "far more common among the poor of all races," the New York Times reports. An American Journal of Public Health study by Frances Stillman of Johns Hopkins University's School of Public Health and colleagues found that among 160 blacks ages 18 to 24 who were enrolled in a job training program in Baltimore, 60% smoked cigarettes and 24% had recently smoked cigarillos, such as Black and Milds, which come in flavors like wine, cream and apple. A similar study of 1,021 low-income blacks in Detroit showed that 59% of men and 41% of women 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 high smoking rates among blacks, which could mean that blacks were undercounted in other surveys.
Seventy-five percent of blacks nationwide smoke menthol cigarettes, compared with less than 30% of whites nationwide. Cigarette companies disproportionately spend their advertising budgets promoting menthol cigarettes, according to Gregory Connolly, director of tobacco control research at the Harvard University School of Public Health. Connolly said, "It appears the industry is targeting the most vulnerable groups through advertising and manipulation of menthol levels."
Lorillard Tobacco -- which makes Newports, a menthol cigarette -- said its marketing is directed at "all adult smokers." Fifty-one percent of Newport buyers are black, the Times reports.
In related news, health experts, community leaders and high school students gathered on Oct. 15 to discuss increased use of cigarillos. Baltimore Health Commissioner Joshua Sharfstein, who called the meeting, said that smoking among black youth might not seem as important compared with violence and other issues. He added, "But if you take a step back, it's the smoking that will end up killing a lot of these kids, maybe not next week but well ahead of their time." The city has begun offering no-cost nicotine patches and gum, and officials also are considering restrictions on single-sale cigarettes and cigarillos.
Stillman said, "The whole issue here is that the social 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).