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African American Health: Where’s the Good News?

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No matter if it's diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, stroke, cancer, HIV/AIDS or infant mortality, the African American community suffers more greatly and experiences more adverse health effects than any other ethnic group.  With all of these diseases, lifestyle is a key component. As individuals and as a community, we can take steps to decrease our risk and the risk of our families from becoming ill with these diseases.  Tobacco use and second hand smoke exposure are major risk factors for many diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, stroke, cancer, and infant mortality.  African Americans smoke and are exposed to secondhand smoke at higher rates than the general population.

In California there are approximately 3.6 million adult smokers, 200,000 youth smokers, and 35,000 annual deaths from tobacco-related diseases.

African Americans comprise approximately 2.4 million or 6.7 percent of the total population.  In 2006, 14.6 percent of all African American deaths were tobacco related.  In 2005, African Americans continued to have the highest adult smoking rate at 18.9 percent, while the overall adult smoking rate was 13.7 percent.  Studies have shown that although African Americans may try to quit smoking more times in a given year, their success rate id 34 percent lower than it is for the general population.  These statistics illustrate tobacco-related disparities between African American population and the population at large.

Research has shown that African Americans smoke fewer cigarettes than White Americans, but suffer worse health effects.  These negative effects are due in part to excessive and deliberate targeting of mentholated cigarettes in the African American community by the tobacco companies.  Menthol is credited as being the crucial factor in the high death rates of African Americans from tobacco-related diseases.  Seventy-five percent of African American smokers prefer menthol cigarettes, compared to 23 percent of White smokers.  Menthol is an attractive ingredient in cigarettes because it makes the smoke easier to inhale, and reaches more deeply into the lungs.

Historically, tobacco companies have been successful in taking advantage of unique social and cultural characteristics of vulnerable populations through targeted marketing to promote tobacco consumption.  They invest billions of dollars in public relations and product advertising and promotions to maintain the social interest and acceptance of their products.  The industry sponsors community, cultural, and entertainment activities, and donates to cultural and ethnic philanthropic causes to promote an image of corporate goodwill.

So we ask, where is the good news?

The good news lies in knowing that the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), California Tobacco Control Program (CTCP) is concerned about the health and well being of the African American community and strives to improve the health of all Californians by reducing illness and premature death attributable to tobacco use.

The CDPH/CTCP is sponsoring an African American Tobacco Control Conference entitled "A Community Under Siege:  The State of Black California and Tobacco Use" on September 26, 2008 from 8:30 - 5:00 p.m. at the Hilton Los Angeles Airport Hotel to increase the awareness and understanding of the impact of tobacco use in the African American community.

This one-day conference will serve as a call-to-action in order to further expand tobacco control efforts in the African American community and to explore the development of new tobacco control partnerships to improve African American health outcomes that are associated with tobacco use.

To attend the conference or for more information, call (916) 449-5500.

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