Tobacco and African Americans

There are many unique health risks associated with Tobacco and African Americans.

Tobacco Use and Health

  • 21.3 percent of African-American adults are current smokers
  • 75 percent of all African-American smokers smoke menthol cigarettes, compared to 23 percent of all Caucasian smokers
  • African-Americans tend to start smoking at a later age, are more likely to attempt to quit smoking, and are less likely to succeed in quitting than their Caucasian counterparts
  • More than 45,000 African-Americans die from smoking-related illnesses annually
  • Both incidence and death rates for lung cancer are higher among African-American men than among Caucasian men
  • Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in both African-American men and women and it kills more African-Americans than any other type of cancer

Menthol Tobacco Use

One of the unique smoking behaviors of African-Americans is the use of menthol cigarettes. Tobacco companies promote menthol cigarettes as "smooth" and "fresh" and tend to market these cigarettes in African-American communities.

Menthol cigarettes are more harmful than many other types of cigarettes. Menthol has cooling and anesthetic effects, allowing smokers to inhale more deeply, absorb more nicotine and expose lungs to higher levels of toxins, increasing the risk for addiction. This also causes increased cotinine levels, which increases nicotine dependence.

Effective Ways to Quit

Quitting is possible and you can do it! Quitting tobacco can not only benefit your health, but also the health of your loved ones. Involve your family and friends in your quitting plans so they are able to support you through the process. Whether you smoke regularly, a few cigarettes a day, or just socially, you can quit for good. Call the QuitLine to create your individual quit plan and to stay quit for good all with ongoing support throughout your quit process.


CDC, "Vital Signs: Current Cigarette Smoking Among Adults Aged 18 Years - United States, 2009," MMWR 59, September 7, 2010,

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Reducing the Health Consequence of Smoking: 25 Years of Progress--A Report of the Surgeon General, 1989,

HHS, Tobacco Use Among US Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups - African Americans, American Indians and Alaskan Natives, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and Hispanics: A Report of the Surgeon General, 1998,

ALA Fact Sheet - Black Americans and Lung Disease.

American Cancer Society, Cancer Facts and Figures for African-Americans 2007-2008, 2007,

American Cancer Society, Cancer Facts & Figures for African-Americans 2009-2010, 2009,