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Tobacco Use in Racial and Ethnic Populations

Tobacco use is much higher in some communities and populations such as groups of American Indians and Alaska Natives, and in subsets of certain populations including Cuban-Americans and Puerto Ricans. Some tobacco products also are used at higher rates in certain populations. An example is menthol cigarette use in the African-American population.

Below is information on the prevalence of tobacco use in racial and ethnic populations, and key facts about some of these disparities.

Adult Smoking Rates among Racial and Ethnic Populations 1

Race/Ethnicity

Total

Men

Women

African-Americans

16.8%

20.9%

13.5%

American Indians/Alaska Natives

21.9%

19.0%

24.0%

Asian-Americans

7.0%

12.0%

2.6%

Hispanics

10.1%

13.1%

7.1%

Non-Hispanic Whites

16.6%

17.3%

16.0%

  • American Indians and Alaska Natives have the highest smoking rate of any racial or ethnic group.1 A recent study also found American Indian and Alaska Native men and women have a higher percentage of smoking-related deaths from heart disease and stroke than white men and women.2
  • For about three in four (77.4%) African-American smokers, the usual cigarette is menthol, over three times the rate as among whites (23.0%).3 The menthol in cigarettes has been found to make it both easier to start smoking4 and harder to quit.5
  • The low overall smoking rate among Asian-Americans masks a big divide in smoking rates between Asian-American men and women.

Current Cigarette Smoking Rates among Racial and Ethnic Populations Ages 12 to 17, 2013 6

Race/Ethnicity

Percent

African-Americans

3.2%

American Indians/ Alaska Natives

7.5%

Asian-Americans

2.5%

Hispanics

3.7%

Native Hawaiian/ Other Pacific Islander

3.6%

Whites

7.2%

  • Among African-American high school students, cigars were the most commonly used tobacco product (8.8%); among Hispanic high school students it was electronic cigarettes (15.3%).7

Learn about the American Lung Association’s programs to help you or a loved one quit smoking, and join our advocacy efforts to reduce tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke. Visit Lung.org or call the Lung HelpLine at 1-800-LUNGUSA (1-800-586-4872).

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center for Health Statistics. National Health Interview Survey, 2015. Analysis performed by the American Lung Association Epidemiology and Statistics Unit using SPSS software.

  2. Mowery PD, et al. Disparities in Smoking-Related Mortality Among American Indians/Alaska Natives. American Journal of Preventative Medicine. June 2015; pii: S0749-3797(15)00223-8.

  3. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (2011). The NSDUH Report: Recent Trends in Menthol Cigarette Use.

  4. Legacy. Tobacco Fact Sheet: Menthol. April 2014.

  5. Levy DT, et al. Quit Attempts and Quit Rates Among Menthol and Nonmenthol Smokers in the United States. American Journal of Public Health. July 2011; 101(7):1241-7.

  6. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (2014). Results from the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tobacco Use Among Middle and High School Students — United States, 2011–2014. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. April 17, 2015; 64(14):381-5.

Page last updated: October 14, 2020

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