According to the American Lung Association, in 2008, about 5.6 million, or 21.3 percent of non-Hispanic Black adults smoked cigarettes compared to 22.0 percent of non-Hispanic whites. African-Americans accounted for approximately 12 percent of the 46 million adults who were current smokers in the United States during 2008. And according to a 2008 national health survey, 15.8 percent of Hispanic adults in the U.S. were smokers.
A coalition of various minority organizations is hoping to change this. At a recent press conference at the California African-American Museum in Exposition Park, a group of minority leaders formalized an effort to push for a tax increase on cigarettes. It is all in the hopes of fighting the proliferation of big tobacco in communities of color. They are looking to pass the California Cancer Research Act (CCRA).
The act will add $1 to each pack of cigarettes sold in California and generate over $855 million in its first year. Supporters of the act say it would amount to more than $500 million a year, which could be used to detect, treat, prevent, and cure cancer and other tobacco-related illnesses. Other states have enacted similar taxes. In fact, N.Y. State has the highest tax on cigarettes. N.Y.C. has the highest combined local and state tax, at over $5 per pack.
"Our organizations came together because we all recognize what is at stake for our communities if the CCRA is defeated by the tobacco industry. We know the tobacco industry will spend tens of millions of dollars to defeat the CCRA and that they will use front groups from our communities to deliver their rhetoric," says Carol McGruder, co-chairperson and a founding member of the African-American Tobacco Control Leadership Council (AATCLC).
The groups at the press conference included the African-American Tobacco Control Leadership Council, the Tobacco Education and Research Oversight Committee and the National Latino Tobacco Control Network.
"The network is thrilled to see this coalition working together to defend the interest of people of color in California. More resources are needed to build capacity at the local and state levels to advance policies and fund effective, culturally appropriate prevention and cessation efforts that can reduce tobacco-related health disparities," says Dr. Jeannette Noltenius, national director of the National Latino Tobacco Control Network (NLTCN).
Adds McGruder, "This issue is still important because our communities continue to suffer disproportionately from cancer and from tobacco- related diseases. Our communities lag behind mainstream California."
The Leadership Council noted that African-American men are 37 percent more likely to develop lung cancer than white men; that African-Americans die disproportionately from heart disease and stroke compared to all other racial and ethnic groups; and that African-Americans lose more years of life (16.3 years) than all other groups (12 years) due to smoking-attributed causes.
McGruder believes this combined effort will make a difference. "We know that communities of color have much to contribute to this effort. It is our communities that have suffered greatly from the predatory activities of the tobacco industry and it is our communities that must now stand up and fight back. Big tobacco companies will not win this one," she says. "We will be working to educate our communities and all Californians on how the CCRA will not only advance life-saving research on how to prevent, detect, treat and cure cancer, but it will simultaneously reinvigorate California's tobacco control efforts and put more resources into the communities with the greatest need."