Smoking, Race and Ethnicity: Tobacco Use and Latinos

Latino or Hispanic Americans might not smoke as much as Caucasians, but tobacco affects people of all races. Tobacco companies have attempted to target Latin Americans with marketing campaigns in the past, but the serious risks of smoking mean that the only thing better than never starting is quitting as soon as you can.

Addiction doesn’t discriminate. Cultural differences affect smoking rates, but on the whole, most racial or ethnic groups in the U.S. suffer their own share of the burden of death and disease from tobacco. Tobacco use among Latinos isn’t as common as with other groups in the U.S., but there are still plenty of Latin American smokers, and ample opportunity to encourage more of them to make a positive change in their lives and kick the deadly habit.

Smoking Rates Among Latinos/Hispanics

According to the CDC, smoking rates among Latinos or Hispanics are typically lower than average. In 2015, 10.1 % of Hispanic Americans smoked, in comparison to 15.1 % of the population overall. This might not seem like a huge difference, but that makes Latinos around a third less likely to smoke.

Other surveys offer a break-down of smoking rates by subpopulation within the overall group. The data shows that Puerto Ricans are particularly likely to smoke, followed by Cubans and Mexicans, and that Central or South Americans are the least likely to. The data covers the whole period from 2010 to 2013 (when smoking rates were a bit higher), and shows 28.5 % of Puerto Ricans smoking in comparison to 15.6 % of Central or South Americans.

Smoking and Latinos: Acculturation and Gender Differences

Overall, Hispanics are less likely to smoke than most racial or ethnic groups in the U.S., but there are some important differences within the group. The most obvious is the gender difference in Latino smoking rates, with 13.1 % of men smoking in comparison to 7.1 % of women. Men are more likely to smoke than women in the U.S. too (though the gap is closing), but in some cultures the difference can become quite substantial.

Since this is a cultural difference, you’d expect that a Latino raised in U.S. culture would have smoking rates much closer to those of Caucasian Americans. Evidence suggests this is true, with Latino adults born in the U.S. being more likely to smoke than non-U.S. born Latinos, and also those who are more “acculturated” to the U.S. – i.e., more integrated into the culture. Interestingly, these effects are particularly noticeable among women, because of the ordinarily lower rate of tobacco use among Latino women. The short version is that smoking rates begin to approach those in the dominant culture as successive generations integrate.

Tobacco Use Among Latinos: The Risks

The risks of smoking don’t depend on ethnicity, but there are some specific things to consider that are relevant to tobacco use among Latinos. Cancer, heart disease, stroke and diabetes are among the top five causes of death for Latinos, and all of them are linked to smoking. While most people know about the first three, diabetes is also between 30 and 40 % more likely in smokers.

These facts make it clear that if anything, Hispanic or Latino smokers may be particularly vulnerable to the risks of smoking. There are probably other lifestyle factors responsible for the risks too – for example, your diet affects your risk of developing heart disease – but smoking substantially increases your risks.

Tobacco Company Marketing to Latinos

The tobacco industry also has a part to play in smoking among Latinos, and have tried to specifically target the demographic to raise smoking rates. One of the most obvious ways this was done was using brands like Rio and Dorado, which were specifically marketed to Latinos living in the U.S. and were advertised in many magazines and newspapers they were likely to read.

Additionally, there are less obvious approaches used by the industry. By funding universities, scholarship programs, Hispanic political organizations and cultural events, the tobacco industry cultivates a positive image in the community, and tries to ensure Latinos view it favorably.

Quitting Smoking for Latinos

Even though Latinos are less likely to smoke than Caucasian Americans and many other racial and ethnic subgroups, it’s still important for those who do smoke to try to quit. The sooner you quit, the less damage tobacco gets the opportunity to do to you.

There are tons of different approaches you can use to quit smoking, but the important thing is to make sure you use some form of support in your quit attempt. This could be something simple like an e-cigarette or smokeless tobacco, an over-the-counter nicotine patch or gum, or a genuine medication like Chantix. Choose whichever approach most appeals to you, and stick with it – even if you don’t succeed right away.

Quitting smoking is hard, but for Latinos – just like for everybody else – it’s definitely worth the effort.