Black History Month is upon us. As we pause to lift African American voices and legacies, it’s a good time to ponder on the impact that Big Tobacco’s targeted marketing efforts on their community. African American children and adults are more likely to be exposed to secondhand smoke than any other racial group, and deaths by secondhand smoke exposure have a disproportionate effect on African Americans and Latinos(as). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has named smoking as a significant risk factor for developing severe illness from COVID-19, which is also heavily impacting communities of color. According to an article titled Why tobacco is a racial justice issue posted on the Truth Initiative’s website on August 3, 2020, some of the major reasons that these health disparities include the marketing of menthol flavoring in the African American community, major advertising pushes in African American-dominated population centers including extensive promotions and advertising, and higher concentrations of licensed tobacco retailers in communities of color.
Tobacco use is a racial justice issue. For decades, the tobacco industry has targeted the African American community with menthol cigarette marketing. African Americans are more likely to see substantial advertising in their neighborhoods and in Black-centered publications. And while the Master Settlement Agreement of 1998 limits the spaces where tobacco companies can sponsor entertainment events, blues and jazz festivals staged at clubs and bars and limited to adults are not impacted by these restrictions.
According to the 2019 Pennsylvania Behavioral Risk Study, 19% of Black, Non-Hispanic residents of Allegheny County identify as current smokers. The Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency’s Department of Juvenile Justice reports on youth behaviors through the Pennsylvania Youth Survey. In 2019, the counties with the highest percentage of African American participation were Allegheny, Beaver, and Westmoreland Counties. In each case, respondents from grades 6 through 12 reported whether they had ever smoked a cigarette, smoked a cigarette in the last 30 days, or vaped or used an e-cigarette in the last 30 days at rates equal to or higher than the state average.
Lower income communities are less likely to be protected by smoke-free laws and policies. There are some federal protections for HUD-sponsored housing, but they are limited in scope and do not always protect against the impacts of secondhand smoke from maintenance workers or adjacent apartments.
Tobacco Free Adagio Health is committed to addressing these health disparities in the African American community. Our Youth Services Coordinator and participating subcontractors are working with school districts in McKeesport, Woodland Hills and the City of Clairton to educate students on the dangers of tobacco and vaping and to update schoolwide tobacco policies. At a November proclamation ceremony in Wilkinsburg for the Great American Smoke Out tobacco holiday, representatives from Adagio Health spoke on the importance of promoting cessation efforts and advancing tobacco-free policies to eliminate secondhand smoke and promote better health outcomes for the Borough’s residents. The Pennsylvania Free Quitline (1-800-QUIT-NOW
, 1-855-DEJELO-YA in Spanish) offers telephonic cessation support and nicotine replacement therapy for smokers interested in beginning their quit journey. For more information about cessation services and the work that Tobacco Free Adagio Health is doing to address health disparities in our communities, please visit www.tobaccofree.adagiohealth.org.