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Widening disparities in cigarette smoking by race/ethnicity across education level in the United States

  • Author(s): Nguyen-Grozavu, France T
  • Pierce, John P
  • Sakuma, Kari-Lyn K
  • Leas, Eric C
  • McMenamin, Sara B
  • Kealey, Sheila
  • Benmarhnia, Tarik
  • Emery, Sherry L
  • White, Martha M
  • Fagan, Pebbles
  • Trinidad, Dennis R
  • et al.

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Reducing tobacco use is an important public health objective. It is the largest preventable cause of death and disease, yet inequalities remain. This study examines combined educational and racial/ethnic disparities in the United States related to cigarette smoking for the three largest racial/ethnic groups (African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, and non-Hispanic Whites). Data included nine Tobacco Use Supplements to the Current Population Surveys (TUS-CPS) conducted in the United States from 1992/1993-2018 for four smoking metrics: ever smoking rates, current smoking rates, consumption (cigarettes per day), and quit ratios. Across all TUS-CPS samples, there were 9.5% African Americans, 8.8% Hispanics/Latinos, and 81.8% non-Hispanic Whites who completed surveys. Findings revealed that lower educational attainment was associated with increased ever and current smoking prevalence over time across all racial/ethnic groups, and education-level disparities within each race/ethnicity widened over time. Disparities in ever and current smoking rates between the lowest and highest categories of educational attainment (less than a high school education vs. completion of college) were larger for African Americans and non-Hispanic Whites than Hispanics/Latinos. Non-Hispanic Whites had the highest cigarette consumption across all education levels over time. College graduates had the highest quit ratios for all racial/ethnic groups from 1992- 2018, with quit ratios significantly increasing for Hispanics/Latinos and non-Hispanic Whites, but not African Americans. In conclusion, educational disparities in smoking have worsened over time, especially among African Americans and Hispanics/Latinos. Targeted tobacco control efforts could help reduce these disparities to meet public health objectives, although racial/ethnic disparities may persist regardless of educational attainment.

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This item is under embargo until August 31, 2023.