PISCATAWAY, NJ – A new report in the American Journal of Public Health suggests that increasing cigarette prices combined with other social and economic factors appear to be behind the steep decline in smoking rates among Black youth that occurred between 1970s and the mid-1990s. The report argues that racial differences in parental attitudes, religious ties, negative health perceptions (and experiences), worsening poverty, increased food stamp use and price sensitivity were major factors contributing to the more rapid decrease and continuing lower rate of smoking among Black youth than among other groups.
“Some have suggested that African American youth substituted other forms of tobacco, alcohol and other drugs for cigarettes,” said Tyree Oredein, the corresponding author of the report and a doctoral student at the UMDNJ-School of Public Health. “However, there was an overall decline in the use of both licit and illicit drugs among Black high school seniors from the mid 1970s through the early 1990s alongside the fall of cigarette use.” Oredein is also an adjunct professor of health and nutrition sciences at Montclair State University.
In the early 1970s, smoking prevalence among Black youth was similar to that of Whites. Around 1976, smoking among both groups began to decline, but studies have shown that black youth experienced a much steeper decline. By the early 1990s, white students were more than four times more likely to have reported smoking cigarettes within the previous 30 days than their Black counterparts. Understanding the reasons behind this differential decline could help public health experts shape more effective tobacco prevention policies and programming.
“Some have questioned the validity of the statistics on the decline in African American youth smoking, but between 1992 and 2006, there was a marked drop in lung cancer incidence and death rates among 20 to 39 year olds,” Oredein added. “At the same time, a significantly steeper reduction in these same rates among African American adults mirrored the observed drop in African American youth smoking.”
Jonathan Foulds, PhD, a co-author of the report and professor of public health sciences and psychiatry at Penn State College of Medicine, added, “This provides strong evidence for an actual decline in smoking among African American youth during the 1970s through the 1990s. The reduction in young adult lung cancer cases in this group is highly likely to be due to the differential decline in smoking among African American youth 10-20 years earlier.”
The authors highlight a policy implication of the data, suggesting that, “Increases in cigarette price due to increased federal and state excise taxes have become and continue to be an effective tool in reducing cigarette use, especially African American youth.”