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Tobacco use is the number one cause of preventable death among African Americans, resulting in 45,000 Black deaths every year. While African Americans start smoking later and smoke fewer cigarettes daily, they are more likely to die from smoking-related diseases compared to Hispanic or White people.1,2 Black Americans are also more likely to experience secondhand smoke exposure, contributing to elevated rates of coronary heart disease, stroke, and premature death in adults. Tobacco exposure can also lead to low birth weight, respiratory and ear infections, asthma attacks, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) in infants and children. No level of tobacco exposure is safe.1 Tobacco can cause lung cancer among people who smoke and among non-smokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death for African Americans, who also have the highest death rates and shortest survival of any other racial or ethnic group for most cancers.3
African Americans have a complicated history with tobacco. Imported and enslaved Africans cultivated tobacco on America's oldest plantations. Tobacco quickly became the economic foundation of Colonial America, helping to advance the slave trade. Around World War I and the Great Depression, African Americans' only representation in media was stereotypical and racist. The tobacco industry used derogatory terms and Black caricatures in their advertisements. As Black people fought for equality and gained rights, tobacco marketing evolved to attract an overlooked and untapped market. African Americans' image in tobacco advertisements changed to appeal to Black consumers. Tobacco products, specifically menthol cigarettes, are aggressively marketed to Black people. The tobacco industry continues to exploit the Black community with racially targeted advertising and manipulative marketing strategies.
Tobacco marketing plays a significant role in smoking initiation in all communities. Unfortunately, the tobacco industry’s predatory marketing tactics have contributed to the unjust practices and racial disparities African Americans experience. Big Tobacco attempts to influence African Americans to smoke by using our culture to make smoking seem more appealing. This includes aggressively promoting menthol tobacco products, the cigarette flavor preferred by almost 85% of Black people who smoke.2 Tobacco companies also advertise more heavily in stores located in Black neighborhoods, using price promotions to increase sales among Black Americans. Black neighborhoods also tend to have the greatest density of stores that sell tobacco, increasing exposure to tobacco products and marketing to create lifelong nicotine addictions among African Americans.
Despite these inequities, African Americans are less likely to receive advice to quit from health care providers compared to other races. African Americans are also less likely to use cessation counseling or medication when attempting to quit.
Nevada residents ages 13 years or older can get FREE, confidential support to quit smoking or vaping through the Nevada Tobacco Quitline. Call the Nevada Tobacco Quitline today at 1-800-QUIT NOW (1-800-784-8669) or text QUITNOW to 333888. Learn more at www.becausewematterlv.org.