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Smoking and Tobacco

African American Smokers and Heart Disease Risk

More than 45,000 African Americans die from smoking-related diseases each year, which include coronary heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, and emphysema. It is estimated that nearly one-third of African American deaths from cardiovascular disease (CVD) are caused by smoking. CVD is the leading cause of death for all Americans. Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States and among African Americans, and smoking increases the risk for stroke.

In 2007, 19.8% of African Americans smoked, compared with 21.4% of whites (CDC, 2008). Although smoking rates have been declining since 1965, African American males have higher rates of smoking (24.8%) than African American females (15.8%). Despite smoking, on average, fewer cigarettes per day than whites, African Americans tend to smoke brands with higher nicotine levels. In addition, three of every four African American smokers prefer menthol cigarettes. Menthol may increase the absorption of harmful cigarette smoke chemicals. So, although African Americans tend to smoke fewer cigarettes, they are more susceptible to developing smoking-related diseases.

If the current patterns continue, an estimated 1.6 million African Americans who are now under the age of 18 will become regular smokers. About 500,000 of those smokers will die of a smoking-related disease. Non-smoking African Americans also have a higher rate of exposure to secondhand smoke than whites, which will contribute additional deaths caused by CVD.

Compared to their white counterparts, African Americans have more heart and blood vessel disease:

Learn your risk factors and the warning signs of heart disease and stroke at Search Your Heart: Heart Disease, Stroke and African Americans.

You can obtain more information on how to quit smoking by calling the National Cancer Institute at 1-800-422-6237 and asking for "Pathways to Freedom: Winning the Fight Against Tobacco." You may also access it online at http://www.smokefree.gov/landing.aspx?rid=7.

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Last Reviewed: Apr 20, 2009

Karen L Ahijevych, PhD, RN, FAAN Karen L Ahijevych, PhD, RN, FAAN
Professor Emeritus
College of Public Health
College of Nursing
The Ohio State University

Mary Ellen Wewers, PhD, MPH Mary Ellen Wewers, PhD, MPH
Professor of Health Behaviors & Health Promotion
College of Public Health
The Ohio State University

Phyllis L Pirie, PhD Phyllis L Pirie, PhD
Professor of Health Behaviors & Health Promotion
College of Public Health
The Ohio State University