Diabetes A Growing Threat In Blacks Who Are Heavy Smokers

Terrence Raper

Terrence Raper (Photo by Jordan Brown)

He knows cigarettes are bad for him. He knows years of smoking cause the pain in his lungs when he runs up and down the basketball court. But Terrence Raper said he’s not quitting any time soon.

“My health is not really a major concern of my own,” said the 29-year-old father of two from Arlington, Texas. The veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan started smoking in the Army about 10 years ago.

Researcher Wendy White, Ph.D., hopes the work she does changes Raper’s mind. The scientist at Mississippi’s Tougaloo College has spent close to 15 years studying how smoking affects the health of Black Americans. Results from a recent study she led suggest heavy smoking increases the risk of diabetes in Blacks, who have higher rates of the disease compared to U.S. whites and Hispanics.

For the study, the investigators selected nearly 3,000 people, mostly women, who did not have diabetes when they enrolled in the Jackson Heart Study, a large study of cardiovascular disease in African-Americans. The researchers looked at data from more than half of the people in the Jackson sample.

The majority of subjects had never smoked when they signed up. Only 361 people smoked, and 119 of them were heavy smokers, meaning they smoked at least 20 cigarettes — or a pack — daily.

White said the No. 1 finding is that smoking at least a pack a day may cause diabetes in Blacks. Both diabetes and smoking are tied to cardiovascular disease.

“We hear all the time about smoking and lung cancer and other lung disease, but the risk with smoking and diabetes is there,” said White, the deputy director of the Jackson Heart Study’s Undergraduate Training and Education Center.

The findings were presented in November at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions.