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Tackling smoking in the black community — a step toward eliminating health disparities

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Earlier this month, Canadian researchers found that the number of people who tried to quit smoking shot up after Ontario stopped the sale of menthol cigarettes.

The finding could have significant consequences for black smokers in the United States, where the FDA recently announced it is considering restricting menthol in cigarettes.

{mosads}As we saw when CVS Health became the first national retailer to exit tobacco in 2014, limiting access to cigarettes can have a significant impact on public health. According to a recent study in the American Journal of Public Health, in states where CVS Pharmacy had more than 15 percent of the market share, consumers purchased 95 million fewer packs of cigarettes across all retail settings with an even greater impact on those who bought cigarettes exclusively at CVS Pharmacy.


In fact, those who purchased cigarettes exclusively at CVS Pharmacy were 38 percent more likely to stop buying cigarettes, while those who purchased three or more packs per visit were more than twice as likely to stop buying cigarettes altogether.

Such measures to limit access to tobacco products can have a meaningful health impact on African-Americans who are more likely than average to develop lung cancer, and more likely to die from it — even though the rate of smoking among African-Americans is no higher than average.

In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), African-Americans start smoking at a later age, and smoke fewer cigarettes.

While no single reason explains this discrepancy, a major factor is that African-Americans are far more likely to smoke menthol cigarettes, which may be more addictive than non-menthol. Menthol is thought to allow smokers to inhale deeper and longer, and may enhance absorption of nicotine into the bloodstream.

Nearly nine out of every 10 black smokers in the United States prefer menthol cigarettes. Not only is menthol cigarette advertising heavily marketed toward African-Americans, but black neighborhoods have more tobacco sellers, and menthol cigarettes are given more shelf space in those outlets.

The Food and Drug Administration has found that African-Americans who use menthol cigarettes have less success quitting smoking, even though they are more likely than other groups to try. And according to the CDC, black communities are less likely to use quit smoking programs.

Our two organization, the American Lung Association and the National Urban League are working to change that.

We have formed a unique partnership to combat smoking-related disease among African-Americans by offering free quit smoking services. Funded through a $1 million grant from the CVS Health Foundation, as part of the company’s 5 year, $50 million commitment to helping deliver the first tobacco-free generation, the partnership works with black communities and other underserved populations, giving them access to the American Lung Association’s Freedom From Smoking program, a proven-effective smoking cessation program.

Since it was first introduced over 35 years ago, the  program has helped hundreds of thousands of Americans end their addiction to nicotine. Participants will learn about building a quit plan, medications that can aid quitting smoking, lifestyle changes that support quitting smoking, how to manage stress and how to overcome relapse and become smoke free for good.

Through this partnership, we are working to promote and provide better access to proven quit-smoking programs to communities in Chicago, Atlanta, Indianapolis and Washington, D.C.

The high incidence of lung cancer and rate of death from it are just part of the serious racial disparity in health care and outcomes in the United States. black Americans are almost twice as likely to be uninsured–further reducing access to quit smoking treatments. Life expectancy is four years shorter, and younger African-Americans, between 20 and 40, are likely to develop or die from health conditions that typically occur at older ages in whites, such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

Our partnership to end nicotine addiction among African-Americans is a bold step toward eliminating these disparities.

Marc H. Morial is the president and CEO of the National Urban League. Harold P. Wimmer is the national president and CEO of the American Lung Association. Their  partnership is made possible through a grant from the CVS Foundation.

Tags Cigarette Health effects of tobacco Human behavior Menthol cigarette Nicotine Nicotine replacement therapy Tobacco Tobacco advertising

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