Smoking and African Americans

• In the United States, approximately 45,000 African Americans die each year from smoking-related diseases.

• Smoking rates within the African American community vary according to gender and age. In 1997, African American men (32.1%) smoked at a higher rate than white men (27.4%), while African American women(22.4%) and white women (23.3%) smoked at a similar rate.1

• Although the National Youth Tobacco Survey found that the smoking prevalence rate was higher among white high school students (32.8%) than among African American high school students (15.8%), recent surveys have shown that smoking rates among African American high school students are increasing. 3

• As with white men, African American men who were high school graduates showed a greater decline in smoking prevalence than did those with less formal education.

• Socioeconomic characteristics in particular often affect health-care access and quality, and minority groups are less likely than whites to be insured and to receive adequate health care.2

• Smoking is the most common cause of lung cancers (87%). African American men are at least 50% more likely to develop lung cancer than white men and 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).

• Cerebrovascular disease is double among African American women (40.6 per 100,000) as among white women (22.6 per 100,000).3

• A recent study in the Archives of Internal Medicine suggests that smoking menthol cigarettes may make cessation more diffi cult for the smoker. As menthol cigarettes were found to be preferred by African American smokers (89% versus 29% among other smokers), this finding may indicate why smoking cessation rates are lower among African Americans. .4

Other Resources on African Americans and Smoking

NMA’s Smoking Cessation Fact Sheet
American Lung Association’s Smoking and African Americans Fact Sheet
Pathways to Freedom: Winning the Fight against Tobacco
Medication and Counseling Help African Americans Quit
Surgeon General’s Report on Women and Smoking-- African American Women


1.“Treating Tobacco Use and Dependence: A Systems Approach. A Guide for Health Care Administrators, Insurers, Managed Care Organizations, and Purchasers,” November 2000. U.S. Public Health Service,

2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Tobacco Use Among U.S. Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups - African Americans, American Indians and Alaska Natives, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and Hispanics: A Report of the Surgeon General. 1998.

3. Centers for Disease Control. “African Americans and Tobacco,” 2005.

4. Mark J. Pletcher et al., “Menthol Cigarettes, Smoking Cessation, Atherosclerosis, and Pulmonary Function,” Archives of Internal Medicine 2006, 166:1915-1922.