Why It’s Harder for African Americans to Stop Smoking

Sonya Smith, Examiner, April 1, 2009

With the increase in cigarette tax and the cost of cigarettes officially being much more expensive, it’s the perfect time to focus on ways to stop smoking.

For many, particularly African Americans who smoke menthol cigarettes, that may be a difficult task.

According to researchers, menthol cigarettes are harder to quit, particularly among African American and Latino smokers.

That is the finding of a study which examined the effects of menthol on quit rates among a diverse group of nearly 1,700 smokers attending a Tobacco Dependence Clinic at the UMDNJ-School of Public Health.

“We previously found that menthol cigarette smokers take in more nicotine and carbon monoxide per cigarette. This study shows that menthol smokers also find it harder to quit, despite smoking fewer cigarettes per day,” said study author Kunal Gandhi, MBBS, MPH, a researcher in the division of addiction psychiatry at the UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

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According to Foulds [Jonathan Foulds, director of the Tobacco Dependence Program], “More than 80 percent of the African American smokers attending our clinic smoke menthols, and they have half the quit rate of African Americans who smoke non-menthol cigarettes.”

The researchers believe the cooling effect of the menthol makes it easier to inhale more nicotine from each cigarette and, therefore, to obtain a stronger and more addictive nicotine dose. “That may be part of the reason why African Americans have much higher rates of lung cancer,” Foulds said.

The researchers also are concerned that more young and Latino smokers are becoming addicted to menthol cigarettes. The tobacco industry may target its marketing of menthol cigarettes to groups with less cash to spend, such as youths, with the aim of getting them hooked even on fewer cigarettes per day, they said.

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Advertising and promotion of tobacco products is prevalent in Black communities in California, advocates complained. Throughout the years, Blacks have been exposed to hundreds of tobacco ads, most of which are for menthol cigarettes, they said. Historically, the tobacco industry places proportionately more menthol cigarette ads in Black-oriented magazines than general population magazines, they charged.

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