Collectively, we educate the African American community about tobacco use and cessation, partner with community stakeholders and public health agencies to inform and affect the direction of tobacco policy, practices, and priorities, as it affects the lives of African-Americans.
Although California has made great strides in tobacco control over the past 25 years, sickness and death from the use of tobacco continue to disproportionately affect its African American community. Smoking rates among all adult Californians have plummeted from 18.6% in 1990 to 11.6% in 2008, a rate second only to the state of Utah; but among African Americans, the smoking rates remain the highest in the state at 14.2% with 16.3% of males and 12.1% of females still smoking (Al-Delaimy WK, White MM, Mills AL, Pierce JP, Emory K, Boman M, Smith J, Edland S. Final Summary Report of: Two Decades of the California Tobacco Control Program: California Tobacco Survey, 1990-2008, La Jolla, CA: University of California, San Diego; 2010.).
However, the reported smoking rates for African Americans may be severely under-reported, as a community-based study shows that the smoking rates among African Americans is significantly higher than what has been reported by the California Department of Public Health. Specifically, this community study found that African Americans’ overall smoking prevalence is actually 32.6%. This difference in rates reported by the State of California and the community-based research is because the data collected by the State was done by calling people at home on their land-lines, which may have missed a significant portion of the African American community because so many use cell phones.
Regardless of the actual rate, the consequences for our community are sobering: Black men who smoke are 50% more likely to get lung cancer than white men who smoke; 81% of Black men who get lung cancer will die, where 54% of white men with lung cancer will die. African Americans lose more years of life per death (16.3 years) than Hispanics (14.6 years) and all others (12.0 years) due to smoking-attributable causes (Max, Sung, Tucker, & Stark, 2010).
Though tobacco-related deaths continue to kill more African Americans than AIDS, violence and accidents combined, tobacco-related deaths have yet to be given the priority on the public policy agenda that they deserve. The disparities in smoking-related sickness and death that exist between African Americans and the general population of California are an open sore in California’s tobacco control movement.