Did you know that, as of last year, an estimated 19.2 percent of U.S. smokers were black women? Though as a group we represent the lowest percentageof youth/teen smokers, and though we are far less less likely to smoke while pregnant than white women (Latino women have both groups beat, with a very low 6.5 percentage of pregnant smokers), there’s still a significant number of us out here, struggling to kick the habit. In 2000, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 70 percent of smokers have some desire to quit, but that black smokers have the most difficult time doing so.
Though discussions about blacks and smoking often mention targeted marketing as a predominant reason why we pick up the habit, there are likely as many reasons for blacks to smoke as there are for any other cultural group. Social and emotional factors are also in play, such as growing up in a household where smoking occurred or using cigarettes as a stress reliever. Dr. Ernest Levister Jr., a columnist with Blackvoicenews.com, notes that regardless of cost, quitting takes a great deal of outside support:
The wake-me-up, pick-me-up, after dinner, stress relief smokes turn into must-have coping strategies, helping black women get through life’s daily dramas. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services understands this behavioral and physical addiction connection. As a result it recommends both “social” and “chain” smokers be treated aggressively with the help of a doctor or certified smoking cessation specialist. Free clinics are available through your local social services agency.
In an Essence.com article last year, writer Danielle Moodie-Mills talked about her own struggle to quit smoking. She noted a preference for menthols:
… Men generally have higher rates of smoking than women, except when it comes to menthol cigarettes. An estimated 85 percent of African-American women smokers puff on menthols — the highest rate among all smokers in the United States…. My experience was not unique, as statistics indicate. But I’ve often wondered if I would have developed a smoking habit that lasted well into my twenties if the “sweet minty” cigarettes weren’t on the market.
Are you or have you ever been a smoker? Were menthols your type of choice? If you successfully quit, how did you kick the habit?