Smoking Rises among Poor Blacks


WASHINGTON (NNPA) €” Two years ago, when Don Jordan’s doctor showed him a picture of a “clear lung and a dirty lung” he decided it was time to kick his 27-year cigarette smoking habit.

“All that stuff came together,” said the 42-year-old Washington, D.C. resident. “I got tired of not being able to breathe when walking up stairs-breathing fast, chest caving in and tightening-“

Jordan considers himself lucky. Thanks to his doctor’s scare tactic, he kicked a habit that he started at age 13 when he was “bored” and likely saved himself from getting a tobacco-related disease, such as lung or throat cancer.

Unfortunately, according to a recent report published in the current issue of The American Journal of Preventative Medicine, a large number of low-income African Americans who smoke have yet to follow suit in kicking their nicotine addiction.

The report also said that cigarette smokers in the Black community are getting younger.
Though recent reports note that the overall smoking population is decreasing, that is not true for certain Blacks. Jorge Delva, a co-author author of the smoking report.

“When people report that in their state smokers are decreasing, a huge disparity is missed,” Delva said. “Most of the research focuses on non-minority populations and not in the lowest of lowest economic status and it’s not because they are purposely neglected.”

He explained, “It’s possible that this population is very unique,” he said. “The fact is that the findings points to the need to research of those low-income populations who are less likely to quit (smoking) and less likely to reach a doctor or nurse that can help them.”

The study was conducted by the DetroitCenter for Research on Oral Health Disparities in 2002. It began as a study to find out the overall health condition of low-income, underserved African-Americans.

But in 2005, a team of researchers, including Delva, one associate professor of social work at the University of Michigan, analyzed the information and found that the number of poor Black people who smoke has remained stable or risen over the past few years, he said.

“It surprised us,” he said. “We provide an honest description of our findings. The bottom line is that we need to do more research in low-income populations.”
The report randomly selected African-Americans living in some of the poorest neighborhoods in Detroit.

“It’s the type of poverty where if you work around it, you know about it. But most of the country doesn’t know. It’s like what happened in New Orleans,” Delva said referring to various television images of poor people, mostly African-Americans, stranded in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Of the 1,021 African-Americans selected for the study, 42 percent said they smoked-59 percent were men and 41 percent were women.

When the smoking participants were asked why they smoked, they said it relieves stress and anger, helps in dealing with the emotion of discrimination or because of a lack of social support, Delva said. “People who have social support will likely not be smokers,” he said.

Despite the given reasons for smoking, the report said that African-Americans may not be benefiting from current intervention efforts.

It added that advertising, targeting African-Americans adults and youth using hip-hop icons, contributes to the problem too, the report said.

Nonetheless, Delva said the primary goal behind publishing the findings is to bring awareness of the growing, often overlooked disparities in low-income, minority populations.

“The stake holders, the public officers and others interested in public health of the country need to pay more attention to the burden of disease in low-income populations, particularly with tobacco use,” Delva said.

In the report, 45 percent of the participants who smoked earned less than $10,000 a year while 37 percent of smokers made more than $30,000 a year. When analyzed by age, the study found that the number of adult participants who smoked was significantly higher than their younger counterparts, aged 21 and younger.

The older smokers started smoking at a later age than the younger smokers. For example, participants aged 31 and over said that they started smoking in their late teens to early 20s while participants ages 14 to 30 said that they started in their early teens, the report said.

There has been a trend in African-Americans dealing with tobacco induced cancer, said a doctor at Meharry Medical College, a private historically Black institution in Nashville, Tenn.

“We have seen an increase in numbers, not just lung cancer, but throat cancers, cancers of the mouth,” said Dr. Millard D. Collins, the associate residency director of family medicine.

Most smokers light up for the calming effect, he said. “They get an immediate sense of calm and relaxation,” Collins said. “People smoke when they get up in the morning, while in transit, waiting on a ride from someone, after they eat.”

Tobacco use is the “single largest preventable cause of death and has a disproportionate impact on African Americans,” said the report.

And since “our kids are coming up with asthma because they’re living in a smoke heavy environment,” Collins added.

There is a strong resistance to smoke cessation programs in the African-American smoking population, Collins said. “Most people won’t stop smoking until they’re ready,” he said.

But when they are ready, there are several ways to help stop the addiction, such as using nicotine patches, chewing nicotine gum or using a special inhaler, Collins said.

“It simulates the smoking-the hand- to-mouth effect,” he said, referring to the inhaling device. But “none of this works unless you really want to stop,” Collins said.

He added that though the amount of smoking varies from one smoker to another the effects of smoking cigarettes. Aside from increasing the chance of getting cancer, smokers often have yellowing teeth, a hacking cough and sinus infections are most common, according to Collins
Economics also plays a role. Collins said:

“They have limited access to vacations or night’s out.”