How Tobacco Companies Are Killing Our Black Teens
Here's what we can do to help
You would have had to have been born yesterday to not know that cigarettes are terrible for you. So it makes sense that, increasingly, the folks who turn to cancer sticks are, in fact, minors who have never known a time when pagers were the height of on-the-go technology, or Tupac wasn’t a martyr.
According to the American Lung Association, 90 percent of all smokers take their first puff before the age of 18, and 99 percent light up by the age of 25.
Rashe Warren is one of those young smokers. The Baltimore native had his first cigarette at 15; just one of the 3,800 teenagers who try cigarettes for the first time each day. Seven years later, he’s still hooked.
“I saw it around me—home, school, outside, everywhere—and wanted to try it," said Warren, now 22 years old. "I kinda liked it, so I just went with it."
[Cig Co.'s Don’t Have to Show Graphic Warnings]
Warren says cigarettes seemed like a better alternative to illegal substances like marijuana, but he knows they are dangerous. “I wouldn’t say smoking isn’t gonna kill me, ’cause I know that it can. So I try to lighten up on it, and smoke less than I used to,” he said. He currently smokes 11 cigarettes each day.
He’s right. According to the Surgeon General, Regina Benjamin, 1,200 smokers die each day. And cigarette manufacturers are working overtime to replace the dead; each day they entice at least two young people to become regular smokers.
Nationwide, about 20 percent of adults smoke cigarettes; that percentage jumps to 23.1 percent for African Americans. More than 600,000 middle school kids smoke, along with 3 million high schoolers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 43.5 percent of black teens have smoked a cigarette at some point in their young lives, and three-quarters of them continue smoking as adults.
It’s not by chance that they try them. United States tobacco companies spend more than $100 million an hour marketing their products. And it works; upward of 80 percent of underage smokers choose the three brands that are the most heavily advertised. The average young person is exposed to 559 tobacco ads annually; African American adults see 892 ads each year.
A 2011 study conducted by the Stanford University School of Medicine found that in California neighborhoods with high schools, as the number of black students increased, the amount of local advertising for menthol cigarettes jumped, and the price of said cigarettes dropped—a combination that entices young folks to purchase mentholated cigarettes in increasing numbers.
“Menthol cigarettes serve as a starter product for youth smoking. We need to protect our youth from a lifetime of nicotine addiction and findings from this study further support a ban on menthol flavor in cigarettes,” said study coauthor Amanda Dauphinee from the Stanford Prevention Research Center.