African Americans

Image provided courtesy of the California Department of Health Services, Tobacco Control Section. The views expressed on this website do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of Health Services.

Fast Facts About African Americans and Secondhand Smoke

Tobacco use, which is related to heart disease, cancer, and stroke are the three leading causes of premature death among African Americans, claims the lives of roughly 47,000 African Americans each year. It is linked to 63% of cancer related deaths among African American men in the United States, the highest cancer mortality rate of any gender-ethnic group. Why?

Eighty-one percent of African Americans support 100% smokefree laws in workplaces and restaurants, according to the PRAXIS Project, but African Americans still have higher rates of exposure to secondhand smoke on the job. Why?

African American youth are less inclined to smoke than other ethnicities, but they receive higher rates of cigarette offers. Why?

THE ANSWER: Tobacco industry targeting

Why the tobacco-related health disparity?
After conducting marketing tests on African Americans' tobacco preferences, the tobacco companies began targeting its mentholated cigarette brands, such as Newport, Kool, and Salem, toward African Americans. The outcome: 75% of African American smokers prefer menthol cigarettes. Studies have shown that menthol may facilitate absorption of harmful cigarette smoke constituents at greater rates, partly due to deeper inhalations.

Why the lower levels of protection on the job?
African Americans' higher rates of occupational exposure to secondhand smoke stem, in part, from the fact that people of color are disproportionately employed in factory and restaurant jobs, which have the least protection from smokefree laws.

Why the higher rates and cigarette offers to African American youth?
Clearly the tobacco companies think they have a good chance of getting a strong foothold in this market. They spend a lot of time and money developing advertising campaigns targeting the African American community. The industry has placed targeted print ads in African American-oriented publications, sponsored events, and placed outdoor billboards in neighborhoods with large African American populations. These cigarette ads feature themes the tobacco companies think will appeal to the African American community, such as references to Malcolm X. RJ Reynold's "Stir the Senses" campaign featured hip hop culture as a promotional tool. And now, Reynolds American has launched a new promotional tour for its KOOL cigarettes called the 2005 KOOL Jazz Philosophy Tour, exploiting jazz culture.

Smokefree advocates are taking action!

Smokefree advocates, led by the National African American Tobacco Prevention Network (NAATPN), are calling the tobacco companies out, making them publicly take responsibility for their targeted advertising.

To counter the tobacco companies, NAATPN created a direct spoof of R.J. Reynold's "Stir the Senses" campaign, which featured hip-hop music and urban culture as a promotional tool, calling their cigarettes Slay 'em, to educate the public about the tobacco company's targeted marketing tactic.

In 2004, the Attorneys General of Illinois, Maryland, and New York decided to take Brown & Williamson and RJ Reynolds to court, charging that the tobacco giants' KOOL cigarettes promotions and advertisements were a direct violation of the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement. The result: R.J. Reynolds agreed to significant restrictions on all future KOOL MIXX promotions.

Get involved in NAATPN's FightKOOL campaign to counter tobacco industry targeting of the African American community.

Fast Facts About African Americans and Secondhand Smoke

The facts show not only that the African American community is in need of protection from secondhand smoke, but also that it is supportive of smokefree air. For citations and more detailed information, read the full report.

  • 47,000 African Americans die each year from smoking-related diseases.

  • Eighty-one percent of African Americans support 100% smokefree laws in workplaces and restaurants.

  • Roughly 34.7 million people (12.9%) comprise the African American population in the United States. Approximately 5.1 million African American adults (22.3%) smoke cigarettes. The majority of African Americans (57.1%) are likely to not permit smoking inside their homes.

  • High rates of occupational exposure to secondhand smoke stem, in part, from the fact that people of color are disproportionately employed in laborer and factory jobs (40.7% compared to the national average of 27.3%), which have the highest rates of exposure to secondhand smoke. African Americans comprise roughly 12 percent of the restaurant workforce, which has the least protection from smokefree laws. (See graph)

  • Seventy-two percent of African Americans are exposed to secondhand smoke, compared to 50 percent of whites, and 45 percent of Mexican Americans.

Smokefree News

Giovino, G.A.; Gardiner, P.S., "Understanding tobacco use behaviors among African Americans: progress, critical gaps, and opportunities,"
Nicotine and Tobacco Research 18(Suppl.1): S1-S6, April 2016.

Alexander, L.A.; Trinidad, D.R.; Sakuma, K.K.; Pokhrel, P.; Herzog, T.A.; Clanton, M.S.; Moolchan, E.T.; Fagan, P., "Why we must continue to investigate menthol's role in the African American smoking paradox," Nicotine and Tobacco Research 18(Suppl.1): S91-S101, April 2016.

The Troubling History of Big Tobacco's Cozy Ties With Black Leaders: and the reason one of the community's biggest killers is all but ignored
Mother Jones - November 17, 2015

It's hardly surprising that a tobacco company would donate more money to Republican politicians than to Democrats, who are generally more amenable than GOPers to taxes and regulation. North Carolina's Lorillard Tobacco, for instance, gave nearly four times as much cash to Republican candidates during the 2014 congressional election cycle. But the company made a striking exception for one particular subset of Democrats: African Americans.

Green, P.M.; Guerrier-Adams, S.; Okunji, P.O.; Schiavone, D.; Smith, J.E., "African American health disparities in lung cancer," Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing 17(2): 180-186, April 1, 2013.

Abstract: Lung cancer is a leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States and globally. African Americans experience significant differences in lung cancer incidence and mortality. Smoking is the single greatest risk for lung cancer, making smoking cessation programs a potentially fruitful approach for reducing the risk of lung cancer. Despite clinical practice guidelines that prompt nurses to advise patients to quit smoking, only a small percentage of nurses do so. Minority patients are less likely than Whites to receive smoking cessation advice. This article discusses recent findings on the pathophysiology and risks for lung cancer. The literature on smoking cessation research is examined to determine the features of successful cessation interventions. Recommendations are offered for enhancing tobacco cessation efforts in nursing practice, education, and research.

Ex-tobacco insider says companies target blacks
Charleston (WV) Gazette, 2009-10-30
Paul J. Nyden Staff writer

A former tobacco industry executive said Friday in Charleston that cigarette companies have targeted black people in America.
LaTanisha Wright began working for the Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., based in Louisville, Ky., in 2001. She resigned after the company merged with R.J. Reynolds Tobacco in July 2004 to form Reynolds American.

"My goal is to educate people in churches, schools and community centers, as well as public health officials," Wright said. She said her experience in the tobacco industry makes her better able to help people now.

"Our training stresses how Big Tobacco targets black communities. A lot of people living in black communities don't recognize that," Wright said. "They targeted black communities and youth. They post many more billboards and signs in black communities than in white communities."
About 40 people attended Wright's five-hour training session on Friday at the Blessed John XXIII Pastoral Center. ...

African-Americans Smoke Less in Teens, Catch Up by 30s
Health Behavior News Service, 2008-11-10

African-Americans are much less likely to smoke than whites are during their teens. However, a new study finds that most of this advantage disappears by mid-adulthood.

“There is a puzzle here in that usually the health disadvantages in African-Americans show up early in life and get worse as they get older,” says Fred Pampel, Ph.D., a sociology professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder. “For cigarette smoking, African-Americans tend to act in a more healthy way during their teens, but that advantage goes away by middle age.”

The study appears in the December issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior. Pampel used data from two surveys to make his conclusions.

Cigarette smoking and lung cancer: A deadly mix, especially for African American males
Insight News (Minneapolis, MN), 2008-11-10
The National Cancer Institute, NNPA Special Commentary

Millions of people play the lottery. They walk into a grocery store, buy a ticket and wait for someone to announce the winning numbers. Millions of people also smoke--one in five American adults to be exact.

They walk into a grocery store and buy a pack of cigarettes. But with the cigarettes, there are no winning numbers. In fact, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), these are the "losing" numbers:

Black, White Teens Show Differences in Nicotine Metabolism
NIH News, January 20, 2006

New research by scientists with the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), National Institutes of Health, suggests that some of the racial and ethnic differences underlying how adults’ bodies metabolize nicotine also are at work during adolescence. The findings have implications for the way teens of different racial and ethnic backgrounds are provided smoking cessation treatments. The study is published in the January 2006 issue of Ethnicity and Disease.

African Americans Smoke More than Whites, Study Finds
Consumer Affairs, 2005-10-21

Here’s some good news. White males are smoking less than they were ten years ago.

Here’s some bad news. Women and African Americans have a long way to go. That is the conclusion of an article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The article summarized surveys of our national health habits. The surveys provided some surprises.

Between 1994 and 2004, men quit smoking at a much higher rate than women. The number of young men who started smoking actually declined.

Smoking Rises among Poor Blacks
Louisiana Weekly, 2005-10-10

Unfortunately, according to a recent report published in the current issue of The American Journal of Preventative Medicine, a large number of low-income African Americans who smoke have yet to follow suit in kicking their nicotine addiction.

The report also said that cigarette smokers in the Black community are getting younger.

Though recent reports note that the overall smoking population is decreasing

Faulty cell cycle checkpoints linked to lung cancer risk in African-Americans
EurekAlert, 2005-10-15

Faulty cell cycle "checkpoints" that fail to respond to DNA damage effectively may contribute to the high incidence of lung cancer in African-Americans, say researchers at Georgetown University's Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center and the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

Their study, reported in the October 15 issue of Cancer Research, is the first epidemiological study to show the association of lung cancer risk in African-Americans and efficiency of the critical "G2/M checkpoint." While the researchers report that this checkpoint was generally less effective in the group of African-American lung cancer patients they studied, they found this risk to be especially high in African-American women and nearly a five-fold increase in lung cancer risk in women with faulty G2-M checkpoint compared to women with efficient G2-M checkpoint. The study did not found any association of this checkpoint with lung cancer risk in whites.

Menthol Smokers May Have Greater Cancer Risk
Join Together, August 31, 2005

Researchers pondering the higher cancer rate among black smokers -- who tend to smoke fewer cigarettes than whites -- say that a preference for menthol cigarettes may be the cause, the New York Times reported Aug. 30.

Habits: Menthol May Add a Danger for Smokers
New York Times, August 30, 2005

Black smokers tend to smoke fewer cigarettes than white smokers do,
researchers have found. Yet they seem to be at higher risk for
smoking-related diseases like lung cancer and heart disease.

How can this be? A pair of recent studies suggests that the menthol in
cigarettes popular with many black people play a role. The reports are
in the current issue of Nicotine & Tobacco Research.

According to one of the studies, led by Carolyn C. Celebucki of the
University of Rhode Island, black smokers prefer menthol cigarettes two
to one over regular ones, the reverse of the pattern among white

Part of the explanation for the difference in health risks may lie in
how menthol affects the way people smoke - especially when they are
smoking cigarettes that are marketed as low in tar and nicotine.

Poll shows new support for smoking bans: African American Tobacco Network argues tobacco harms poor more than tobacco taxes
Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, 2005-08-17

A large majority of residents in Minnesota jurisdictions that initiated smoking bans this spring favor the restrictions, according to polls released at the end of June.

The finding is contained in a series of surveys conducted in Minneapolis, Bloomington, Golden Valley, Hennepin County and Beltrami County in late May and early June on behalf of the Minnesota Partnership for Action Against Tobacco (MPAAT).

The polls found that about 74 percent of those surveyed favor the smoking bans. They also found that more than 80 percent of those surveyed are going out as often - or more often ­ since the bans took effect. (Star Tribune)

Study shows students smoke less on HBCU campuses
News 14 Carolina (Raleigh, NC), 2005-08-01

New study shows students tend to smoke less on Historically Black Colleges and Universities campuses.

The North Carolina Central University study hopes to find ways to help students quit smoking.

Researchers also found that white and black students start smoking for different reasons.

This year, NCCU banned smoking in dorms and students News 14 Carolina talked with seem to like the decision. . . .

In the end, researchers hope to develop programs aimed at college students to help them quit smoking for good.

This fall nearly all the state's Historically Black Colleges and Universities will take part in this initiative.