African Americans and Tobacco

A man smoking

African Americans continue to suffer disproportionately from chronic and
preventable disease compared with white Americans. Of the three leading causes
of death in African Americans — heart disease, cancer, and stroke — smoking and
other tobacco use are major contributors.

Health Effects

  • Each year, approximately 45,000 African Americans die from a preventable
    smoking-related disease.
  • If current trends continue, an estimated 1.6 million African Americans who
    are now under the age of 18 years will become regular smokers. About 500,000 of
    those smokers will die of a smoking-related disease.
  • Smoking is responsible for 87% of lung cancers. African American men are at
    least 50% more likely to develop lung cancer than white men. African American
    men have a higher mortality rate of cancer of the lung and bronchus (100.8 per
    100,000) than do white men (70.1 per 100,000).
  • Stroke is associated with cerebrovascular disease and is a major cause of
    death in the United States. Smoking significantly elevates the risk of stroke.
    Cerebrovascular disease is twice as high among African American men (53.1 per
    100,000) as among white men (26.3 per 100,000) and twice as high among African
    American women (40.6 per 100,000) as among white women (22.6 per
  • Levels of serum cotinine (metabolized nicotine) are higher among African
    American smokers than among white or Mexican American smokers for the same
    number of cigarettes.

Cigarette Smoking Prevalence

  • In 1997, current smoking prevalence rates were similar among African
    American adults (26.7%) and white adults (25.3%) in the United
  • In 1997, African American men (32.1%) smoked at a higher rate than white men
    (27.4%); African American women (22.4%) and white women (23.3%), however, smoked
    at a similar rate.
  • The decline of smoking among African American young people during the 1970s
    and 1980s was widely viewed as a great public health success. Unfortunately,
    recent national surveys have shown that smoking rates among African American
    high school students are starting to increase, although those rates are still
    lower than those for other students.
  • The 1999 National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS) estimates that  cigarette
    smoking prevalence during the past month was higher among white high school
    students (32.8%) and lower among African American (15.8%) students. However, the
    rate of smoking among middle school students was similar; about 1 in 10 African
    American (9.0%) and white (8.8%) middle school students reported having smoked
    cigarettes in the past month.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 1999 Youth Risk Behavior
    Surveillance System (YRBSS) report estimates that cigarette smoking prevalence
    during the past month was higher among white (38.6%) and Hispanic (32.7%) high
    school students than among African American (19.7%)
  • According to 1999 the Monitoring the Future Survey data, past month smoking
    prevalence was lower among African American high school seniors (14.9%) than
    among white (40.1%) high school seniors.

Cigarette Smoking Behavior

  • Approximately three of every four African American smokers prefer menthol
    cigarettes. Among whites, approximately a quarter of smokers prefer menthol
    cigarettes. Menthol may facilitate absorption of harmful cigarette smoke
  • Among adult African American smokers the most popular brands are Newport,
    Kool, and Salem. Similar brand preference was found among African American teens
    with 61.3 % preferred Newport, 10.9% preferred Kool, and 9.7% preferred

Prevalence of other forms of tobacco use

  • Aggregated National Health Interview Survey data from 1987 and 1991 show
    that more white men (4.8%) smoked cigars than did African American men
  • African American men (3.1%) use chewing tobacco or snuff less than white men
  • The 1999 NYTS study found that cigar use was nearly similar among white
    (16.0%) and African American (14.8%) high school students; African American
    middle school students (8.8%) were significantly more likely to smoke cigars
    than were white students (4.9%).
  • In 1999, the prevalence of smokeless tobacco use was lower among African
    American high school (2.4%) and middle school (1.9%) male students than among
    white high school (8.7%) and middle school (3.0%), and among Hispanic high
    school (3.6%) and middle school (2.2%) male students.

African Americans and Quitting

  • Of current African American adult smokers, more than 70% indicated that they
    want to quit smoking completely.  African American smokers are more
    likely than white smokers to have quit for at least one day during the previous
    year (29.7% compared with 26.0%).
  • Prevalence of cessation (the percentage of persons who have smoked at least
    100 cigarettes and quit) is higher among whites (50.5%) than among African
    Americans (35.4%).

Tobacco Industry Economic Influence

  • A one-year study found that three major African American publications —
    Ebony, Jet, and Essence — received proportionately higher
    profits from cigarette advertisements than did other magazines.
  • The tobacco industry attempts to maintain a positive image and public
    support among African Americans by supporting cultural events and making
    contributions to minority higher education institutions, elected officials,
    civic and community organizations, and scholarship programs.


cigarsLarge cigars, cigarillos, and little cigars are the three major types of
cigars sold in the United States. Following a steep decline over previous
decades, cigar use increased substantially during the 1990s. The
number of new cigar smokers more than doubled between 1990 and 1998, reaching a
peak of 3.7 million new users in 1998. Cigar use began to increase
starting in 1992 after promotional activities for cigars increased. Cigars contain the same toxic and carcinogenic compounds found in
cigarettes and are not a safe alternative to cigarettes.

Health Effects

  • Regular cigar smoking is associated with an increased risk for cancers of
    the lung, oral cavity, larynx, and esophagus.
  • Heavy cigar smokers and those who inhale deeply may be at increased risk for
    developing coronary heart disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary

Current Estimates


  • Nationally, an estimated 5.5% of adults are current cigar users. Cigar use
    is much higher among men (9.4%) than women (1.9%).
  • An estimated 7.8% of African-American, 5.4% of white, 5.1% of Hispanic, 8.4%
    of American Indian/Alaska Native, and 1.8% of Asian American adults are current
    cigar smokers.
  • An estimated 14.8% of students in grades 9–12 in the United States are
    current cigar smokers. Cigar smoking is more common among males (19.9%) than
    females (9.4%) in these grades.
  • An estimated 6.0% of middle school students in the United States are current
    cigar smokers. Estimates are higher for middle school boys (7.9%)
    than girls (4.1%).

Other Information


  • Cigar sales increased substantially during the 1990s  In 2003, cigar sales
    exceeded 6.9 million units and generated more than $2.3 billion in retail sales.
  • The two leading brands preferred by cigar smokers aged 12 years or older are
    Black & Mild (25.5%) and Swisher Sweets (16.2%).
  • Marketing efforts have promoted cigars as symbols of a luxuriant and
    successful lifestyle.  Endorsements by celebrities, development of
    cigar-friendly magazines (e.g., Cigar Aficionado), features of highly
    visible women smoking cigars, and product placement in movies have contributed
    to the increased visibility of cigar smoking in society.
  • Beginning in 2001, cigar packaging and advertisements must display one of
    five health warning labels on a rotating basis.


For Further Information

Office on Smoking and Health
Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion
Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention
Mailstop K-50
4770 Buford Hwy.,
Atlanta, GA 30341-3717

Media Inquiries: Contact the Office on Smoking and Health’s press line at