African Americans and Tobacco
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.
- Each year, approximately 45,000 African Americans die from a preventable
- 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
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.
Large 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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%).
- 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
Disease Control and Prevention
4770 Buford Hwy.,
Atlanta, GA 30341-3717
Media Inquiries: Contact the Office on Smoking and Health’s press line at