More Women Die Of Lung Cancer Than Breast Cancer
The best way to evaluate the issue of social and racial targeting is to analyze the facts. Smoking rates are higher among some racial subgroups than others, while smoking among people of lower socioeconomic status is much higher than those from middle and upper classes.
Black smokers are 50 percent more likely to die of lung cancer than smokers of other races. Each year, about 45,000 African Americans die from a smoking-related disease.
One possible explanation for a higher death rate among blacks is menthol cigarettes. This is a growing, minority-dominated market segment primarily consisting of blacks and Hispanics.
Menthol cigarettes deliver more tar and nicotine than other cigarettes, while numbing the throat. Because of the numbing effect, those who smoke menthol cigarettes typically inhale deeper than other smokers, which expose more of the lung to the smoke. In fact, African-American women are the most susceptible to menthol-related diseases. Although there are several varieties of menthol cigarettes, the Newport brand dominates this product category.
Furthermore, studies have found a higher frequency of tobacco advertisements in publications that appeal to African Americans than in those that target general audiences. Before tobacco billboards were banned, another study found the highest density of tobacco billboards in African American communities and the lowest density in white communities. Plus, a study by the CDC and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that blacks are less likely to quit their nicotine habit than white people.
The racial subgroup at greatest risk from tobacco-related diseases could be the American Indians and Alaska Natives. On one hand, tobacco is considered a sacred gift and has been used in their religious ceremonies for centuries. Complicating the issue, American Indian and Alaska Native lands are sovereign and are not subject to laws prohibiting the sale of tobacco products to minors. Therefore, Native American children have easy access to tobacco products at a very young age. As a result, 41 percent of male high school seniors from this population smoke, while 39.4 percent of female seniors smoke cigarettes.
The use of snuff and spit tobacco also is higher among Indian Americans and Alaska Natives than among other racial subgroups. About 4.5 percent of this population uses chewing tobacco or snuff, compared to 3.4 percent of whites, 3.0 percent of African Americans, 0.8 percent of Hispanics and 0.6 percent of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Tobacco companies promote directly to these audiences by sponsoring cultural events, such as powwows and rodeos.
In addition to racial subgroups, tobacco companies are targeting women, with images of slender and attractive users who are independent, confident and popular. Tobacco companies have targeted women since the 1920s. In fact, one of the earliest tobacco pitches aimed at women said, “Reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet.” Later, women were told they deserved a Virginia Slim cigarette with the campaign, “You’ve come a long way, baby.”
Between 1991 and 1999 alone, smoking rates among high school girls increased by nearly 30 percent (from 27 percent to 34.9 percent). Since only 18 percent of adult women smoke, these teens will boost smoking rates among women as they age. As a consequence, lung cancer among women is increasing and has been the leading form of cancer among women since 1987. About 1.5 times more women die from lung cancer than breast cancer—68,000 each year.
All tolled, about 173,000 American women die each year from tobacco-related diseases. Women now account for about 39 percent of all tobacco-related deaths—a proportion that has doubled since 1965.
In addition, about 20 percent of pregnant women in the U.S. smoke. Many other expectant mothers are exposed to second-hand smoke. The dangers include miscarriage, mental retardation, low birth weight and a variety of other complications that can require neonatal intensive care.
In May 2001, The World Health Organization (WHO) urged governments around the world to do more to reduce smoking-related diseases among women. It pointed to aggressive tobacco marketing and exposure to second-hand smoke as the cause for increases in related diseases in a 222-page study, “Women and the Tobacco Epidemic—Challenges for the 21st Century.”