FACT SHEET: African American Adults & Tobacco

Prepared in 1999 by: The Center for Social Gerontology, Ann Arbor, MI

The 1998 Surgeon General's Report states that tobacco use is a major cause of disease and death among all minority populations, but African Americans bear the greatest burden of all groups.

Prevalence of tobacco use:

Health and mortality consequences of tobacco use:

  • Virtually all cases of lung cancer are attributable to cigarette smoking. Among African American males, the lung cancer death rate is 50% greater than among white males and more than two to three times as great as among other male minorities. It is unclear why male African American rates are so much higher than other male rates, but it may have to do with historical smoking patterns/habits, or genetics, or menthol in cigarettes.
  • Smoking causes cancers of the lung, larynx, mouth, esophagus and bladder, and is a contributing factor for cancers of the pancreas, kidney and cervix. In almost all of these cancers, both the incidence and death rates of African American males are higher than among white and other minority males, and in many cases substantially higher.
  • Lung cancer death rates of African American women and white women are almost the same, and the rates of both are two to three times higher than the rates of other minority women.
  • Smoking-attributable mortality rates among African Americans are about 20% higher than among whites, and the years of potential life lost due to smoking are even higher, probably due to more smoking-related deaths at earlier ages than among whites.

    Data in this Fact Sheet has been taken from the following: Tobacco Use Among U.S. Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups: A Report of the Surgeon General, 1998; "Cigarette Smoking & Smoking Cessation Among Older Adults: United States, 1965-94" by C.G. Husten et al in Tobacco Control, Autumn, 1997. "Smoking-Attributable Mortality and Years of Potential Life lost -- U.S., 1984," in MMWR, May 23. 1997. Population Projections of the U.S. by Age, Sex, Race, & Hispanic Origin: 1995-2050, published by the U.S. Census Bureau, 1996.