Even though just about everyone knows smoking is bad for one’s health, many Americans, including 21.3 percent of all adult black Americans, smoke.
According to data from Legacy, a national health policy foundation, in 2000 just 37 percent of all black Americans who ever smoked have managed to quit, the lowest rate among all racial/ethnic groups in the U.S.
Each year, Legacy reported, three quarters of black smokers say they want to quit; 60 percent try but only 3 percent succeed in quitting.
Based on 1995 research, tobacco-related disease accounted for 45,000 African-American deaths per year.
Cigarette smoking is a major cause of heart disease, cancers such as lung, trachea or bronchus and stroke, all diseases that are prevalent among African-Americans, according to Legacy.
About the only good news from Legacy’s survey is that African-American youth are more likely to start smoking later than white youth, with an estimated 40 percent of black Americans who have ever smoked starting between the ages of 18 and 21, compared to middle school and high school for other youths.
In middle school, the survey said, about 5 percent of black youth smoke cigarettes in middle school, compared to 4.3 percent for white kids. Among high school students, 7.4 percent of black students smoke compared to 19 percent of white pupils.
What really harms black smokers, though, is their preference for menthol cigarettes.
Two years ago, BlackAmericaWeb.com reported that the National African-American Tobacco Prevention Network reported that menthol cigarettes typically have more tar and nicotine than non-mentholated cigarettes and mask the harshness of tobacco – meaning smokers smoke more, thus inhaling more toxins.
There also was research that suggested menthol cigarettes were harder to quit and that the tobacco industry used menthol to create “starter” cigarettes to appeal to young, first-time smokers.
Nearly 80 percent of African-Americans who smoke use menthol.
According to Legacy, Newport, an almost exclusively menthol brand, is the most popular cigarette brand among black youth, with 60 percent of established black smokers in middle school and nearly 79 percent of black high school smokers smoking Newport.
In addition, Legacy reported, the use of little cigars, or cigarillos, some flavored or mentholated, “is a rising problem for at risk African-American youth. In addition, many youth incorrectly believe that little cigars are less addictive and less harmful than cigarettes.”
Despite some variation in the findings across studies of cessation among menthol smokers the weight of the scientific evidence shows that adult menthol smokers are less likely than non-menthol smokers to successfully quit smoking despite increased quit intentions and quit attempts.
And the tobacco industry, in its ongoing search to grow its customer base, has historically targeted the black community – especially in the use of menthol cigarette advertising.
Since the 1960’s, according to Legacy, the tobacco industry has labeled the African-American population as a strategically important market, one whose search for recognition and empowerment made them a target for existing and new brands specifically marketed to help African-Americans build their own identity.
Basically, the desire to appear cool, hip and in control of one’s destiny, especially among a group that has been the victim of efforts – institutional and legal – over several generations could be manipulated to give one the feeling of having achieved that status through smoking.
The tobacco industry forged alliances with community leaders and black organizations and sponsorships of positive programs to use black voices to defend pro-tobacco policy and oppose tobacco control laws.
People interested in quitting, can visit www.BecomeAnEX.org which offers a free online smoking cessation plan created by Legacy that provides action-oriented information on how to quit successfully using proven methods. The program was created with input from current and former smokers along with tobacco treatment experts at the world-renowned Mayo Clinic.
Phone help can also be found at 1-800-QUIT-NOW.