April is National Minority Health Month, and one of the most significant health issues minorities face is disproportionate rates of smoking and health-related illnesses.
Over the past few years, there has been a citywide increase in smoking rates, and the most underserved communities in New York City continue to have higher rates of smokers. According to the 2013 NYC Community Health Survey, compared to a citywide average of 16%, the smoking rate of people who identify as black, non-Hispanic is 25% in East and Central Harlem, 21% in the South Bronx, and 18% in North and Central Brooklyn.
For decades, tobacco companies have targeted communities of color through marketing. A 2007 public health study found that there were 2.6 times more tobacco advertisements per person in areas with an African American majority compared to white-majority areas. Studies have also found that marketing in economically disadvantaged communities of color has a greater focus on menthol tobacco products, the use of which leads to greater addiction and decreased success in quitting according to the FDA. In addition to heavy marketing, research shows that people of color also have higher smoking rates due to socioeconomic factors such as poverty and lack of access to quality education and healthcare services.
Smoking increases the risk of at least 16 types of cancer and is responsible for about 30% of all cancer deaths. In the U.S., many racial and ethnic minority groups die from cancer at higher rates than whites. For example, according to the American Cancer Society, the cancer death rate among African American men is 27% higher compared to white men and 11% higher among African American women compared to white women. "Disparities in smoking rates are driving health outcome inequalities for some of the most underserved communities in NYC," said Donna Shelley, MD, MPH, Vice Chair for Research, Department of Population Health, Co-Chair of the Section on Tobacco, Alcohol and Drug Use at NYU School of Medicine.
At NYC Treats Tobacco, we are committed to ending health disparities. We are working with healthcare organizations to improve tobacco cessation access for at-risk populations, including people in underserved communities. We encourage local New York City media outlets to draw attention to smoking-related health disparities in order to raise awareness in the communities they serve. We have physician experts available to speak about these issues.
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