According to the federal government, smoking use nationwide is on the decline. Even though these numbers are sharply decreasing, over 40% of all cancer diagnoses are related to tobacco use.
Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, explained to the Washington Post that the 36 million smokers in the U.S. are more susceptible to cancers and other illnesses because smoking is a preventable and persistent health threat. He goes on to explain that “nearly half could die prematurely from tobacco-related illnesses, including 6 million from cancer, unless we implement the programs that will help smokers quit.”
According to Frieden, there is one demographic that has routinely been forgotten in smoking prevention efforts. While other demographics have decreased their tobacco use, the African American community still suffers the worst from smoking.
The three leading causes of death in the African-American community — heart disease, stroke, and cancer — are directly related to smoking and have claimed the lives of 47,000 each year.
Many believe this phenomenon is due to the high prevalence of menthol cigarettes in African American culture. Since the 1960s, the tobacco industry has specifically targeted African Americans through the use of specialized television and ad campaigns.
Not only did they use black models in their promotional material, they specifically chose to advertise in urban segregated communities, and chose to donate funds to many different African American charitable groups in order to gain a following on their products.
It seemed to work. The latest survey between 2012-2014 reported that 84.6% of African American smokers preferred menthol brand cigarettes. Even more, 75% of African American smokers between ages 18-25 choose one specific brand — Newport menthols.
Whats worse is that menthol cigarettes play a tragic role in the three leading causes of death of African Americans. The American Lung Association found that African Americans have a higher occurrence of lung cancer than any other ethnic demographic across the nation, with black men having a 37% higher diagnosis rate than white men.
Common tobacco-related illnesses include heart failure, cancer of the lungs, throat, stomach, and sclerosis of the liver. In addition, according to the U.S. Surgeon General, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States.