By Lorraine Lathen
Tobacco related disparities are no accident. Armed with targeted marketing strategies, cigarettes and a whole line of addictive OTPs (other tobacco products), the tobacco industry’s tactics intentionally cause a higher burden on some populations than on others.
Smoking cigarettes leads to many health problems, including cancer, and many of us know one or more of these risks. But most people aren’t familiar with OTPs and the risks associated with using them. Packaged and flavored like candy, OTPs are noncigarette products that range from little cigars and Swisher Sweets to smokeless products like Orbs, which look like Tic Tacs. Cigarettes and OTPs are not marketed or taxed equally, resulting in many tobacco related disparities.
While Wisconsin ranks 8th in the nation for highest cigarette taxes ($2.52 per pack), we fail to protect our most vulnerable populations by taxing OTPs at much lower rates. Because of their affordability, low-income populations and youth can more easily access these addictive products. And in urban communities, product placement plays a key role in higher OTP consumption rates.
African Americans are one of several populations that carry the brunt of tobacco’s burden. In fact, according to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids (CTFK), African Americans suffer the greatest burden of tobacco related deaths than any other ethnic or racial group in the nation.
Although African Americans usually begin smoking later in life and smoke fewer cigarettes per day than white smokers, they are twice as likely to die from a smoking related illness.
Menthol flavored cigarettes have played a major role in disparities related to African Americans and tobacco use.
More than 75 percent of African American smokers prefer smoking menthol-flavored cigarettes compared to 23 percent of white smokers. Menthol is believed to ease the harshness of smoking, allowing users to inhale more deeply and consume more tobacco and deadly chemicals.
The complexities of these disparities lead to lower quit rates among African American smokers. According to CTFK, the percentage of white smokers who ultimately quit smoking is 50.5 percent versus 35.4 percent among African American smokers.
New research shows that even in the African American community disparities exists within subpopulations. Researchers from Legacy, a national organization dedicated to helping current smokers quit and preventing new smokers, recently found that dual users of cigarettes and cigars are more likely to be young, African American and male.
The researchers analyzed the demographics of a sample of people who smoke cigarettes and cigars and found that the profile of dual users differed from cigarette only smokers. Results showed that the 12.5 percent adults within the sample who said they smoked both cigarettes and cigars were more likely to be young African American men who were unemployed and of “low educational attainment.”
Other key findings emerged from this study including:
- Dual users are less likely than cigarette-only smokers to be daily smokers;
- Dual users are more likely to have made a recent quit attempt;
- And because dual users are less likely than cigarette-only smokers to be daily smokers but more likely to use OTPs, cessation help may be less effective because doctors might underestimate the amount of tobacco being used.
Legacy’s study (along with everything we know about tobacco related disparities) shows the critical need for legislative policies that better regulate OTPs. All OTPs, including cigars and cigarillos, need to be taxed at the same level as cigarettes because higher costs reduce consumption rates.
Tax equity, as we call it, would tax OTPs at the equivalent of $2.52 per cigarette pack. If Wisconsin taxed all tobacco products the same it would make it harder for youth and low-income residents to purchase these addictive products, and it would generate tax dollars to help balance the state budget and supplement the TPCP budget.
Tobacco use goes beyond affecting the individual smokers. It affects communities in many ways, and some communities experience more adversity because of higher cigarette and OTP usage. As a community it is our responsibility to work towards reducing tobacco harm because tobacco companies certainly aren’t looking out for our health. Make a difference by writing to your legislatures today about how cigarettes and OTPs affect people in your community.
Lorraine Lathen is president of Jump at the Sun Consultants, LLC (JATSC) and project director for the Wisconsin African American Tobacco Prevention Network (WAATPN). JATSC convenes the WAATPN.