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Smoking Rates No Longer Falling Among Young Blacks

Smoking rates among young black folks, once showing promising declines, have stalled. Researchers place the blame for this lack of forward progress squarely on the aggressive marketing efforts done by the tobacco industry.

Before 1982, smoking rates were dropping among black high school seniors, but progress has stagnated. In 1982, the rate was 8.7 percent; it was 9 percent in 2014.

“That the decline has stalled in the last 22 years is, to me, very sad news. I think it’s about the industry working really hard to keep this market,” said the University at Buffalo’s Gary Giovino, a co-editor of a supplement to the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research, where the research appeared.

The study also reported: that black adult smokers are less likely than whites to give up the habit as they age, that blacks who start smoking in their 20s are less likely to quit than those who start as teens and that blacks overall are less likely to quit than whites. It also found that among blacks, smoking-related death rates are the same for those who began smoking when they were younger and those who started later. (Among whites, smoking-related deaths are higher for those who started smoking earlier.)

The findings suggest more should be done to stop blacks from starting to smoke as they get older, the researchers said. “Even though African Americans start smoking later in life, they still die disproportionately from tobacco-related diseases compared to their white counterparts,” said supplement co-editor Phillip Gardiner, of the Tobacco Related Disease Research Program of the University of California. “This information has been known for some time, and calls upon all of us to redouble our efforts to allocate greater resources for prevention and cessation in the African-American community.”

In a commentary in the supplement, Giovino and Gardiner called on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ban menthol cigarettes, which are heavily marketed in black communities.

“The predatory marketing of menthol and other candy-flavored tobacco products to African Americans over the past 50 years is a tragedy,” Gardiner said. “More than 80 percent of black smokers use these products. A major step in fighting smoking health disparities would be for the FDA to ban the use of menthol in tobacco products.”

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