Does Discrimination Cause People to Smoke?

Perceived discrimination can influence smoking rates among people of color, study says.

Posted: 03/26/2012 03:59 PM EDT

High rates of smoking among African-Americans has been partially attributed to the tobacco industry’s heavy marketing to the Black community, but a recent study pinpoints another culprit — racial discrimination.


Researchers from Washington University in St. Louis analyzed data from more than 85,000 Americans and found the odds of smoking increased among people who believed they were being judged by their race.


In a press release, Jason Q. Purnell, Ph.D., the lead author of the report, stated, “We found that regardless of race or ethnicity, the odds of current smoking were higher among individuals who perceived that they were treated differently because of their race, though racial and ethnic minority groups were more likely to report discrimination."


Other findings from this multi-ethnic study:


— Individuals who reported worse treatment in the workplace were 42 percent more likely to smoke.

— People who reported better treatment in health care settings than other races were 21 percent less likely to be current smokers.

— Everyday smokers were more likely than occasional smokers and occasional smokers were in turn more likely than nonsmokers to report being the target of perceived discrimination in both health care settings and the workplace.

— Smokers were more likely than nonsmokers to report emotional and physical symptoms in response to perceived discrimination, although occasional smokers were more likely than everyday smokers to report both emotional and physical symptoms.

Purnell says the study calls for more programs to help people deal with discrimination in a healthier way. He said, “Our findings also suggest that alternative forms of coping with discrimination may be a fruitful area of discussion in counseling interventions designed to help individuals quit smoking."

Smoking is a serious issue for African-Americans.

According to the American Lung Association, Black Americans account for 12 percent of the 46 million adult smokers in the United States. And while Blacks smoke less than whites, African-Americans are more likely to die of lung cancer.


It's also harder for Blacks to quit smoking. Last November, reported that a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that while 59 percent of Black smokers tried to quit, only 3.3 percent actually succeeded — the lowest success rate among all races and ethnicities.

BET Health News - We go beyond the music and entertainment world to bring you important medical information and health-related tips of special relevance to Blacks in the U.S. and around the world.

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(Photo: Chicago Tribune/MCT/Landov)