Traditional values may curtail smoking among southern black women

October 08, 1999

University Park, Pa. -- Strong traditional values among Black women that discourage smoking may be the reason for noticeably lower smoking rates among African-Americans in the West and Deep South compared to Blacks in other regions of the country.

"Black women outside the urban hubs in the South and West had the lowest overall prevalence rates among all gender and regional groups surveyed," says Dr. Gary King, associate professor of biobehavioral health at Penn State.

Interestingly enough, the lowest smoking prevalence rates (11 percent) were among Black adults 18-24 years of age -- male and female -- who lived in the non-urban South. Thus, Southern Black women as a whole, regardless of age, were more inclined to avoid smoking than other Blacks nationwide, according to King.

"It may be that these women are less prone to smoking than women of comparable socioeconomic status in other sections of the country because of adherence to strong traditional African-American norms or religious beliefs, community social structure and alternative ways of coping with stress," he notes.

"Our data showed that African-Americans in the Midwest had the highest smoking prevalence rates -- 38.9 percent in the `central city' or urban core and 30.3 percent in suburban or rural areas," says King, a faculty member in the College of Health and Human Development.

King; Anthony P. Polednak, Department of Public Health, Hartford, Conn.; and Robert Bendel of University of Connecticut's Center for Environmental Health, published their research in "Regional Variation in Smoking among African-Americans," in a recent issue of the journal, Preventive Medicine.

The findings in this article were based on figures from the National Health Interview Survey, analyzed the smoking habits of 16,738 African-Americans aged 18-64 over the period 1990-94.

An earlier paper, "Smoking Prevalence Among African-Americans: A Southern Factor," co-authored with Polednak, appeared in the June issue of the American Journal Of Health Behavior.

Findings revealed in this first paper indicate that in the early 1990s, Blacks in the Midwest were heavier smokers than Blacks in the four Deep South states of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi. For example, during that period, smoking prevalence among Blacks in Indiana was 33.8 percent compared to 15.7 percent in Alabama.

Compared to African-Americans in the Deep South, Blacks in the Lower South (Florida, Louisiana, Texas and Arkansas) reported somewhat higher smoking rates, although Florida also had a low rate of smokers (18.2 percent).

"The smaller percentage of Black smokers in Florida is probably attributable to the high proportion of foreign-born Blacks, who smoke less on average than American-born Blacks," King says.

Of all Southern and border states with substantial Black populations, only Delaware, Kentucky and North Carolina had Black smoking rates of 25 percent or greater. In the northeastern states, the Black smoking rate was uniformly above 25 percent, except for New York (23.3 percent), the most populous state for Blacks.

The smaller percentage of Black smokers in New York may also be traced to large numbers of foreign-born Blacks, says King.

King recently received a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in Princeton, N.J. to study the opinions of African-Americans toward tobacco control policies.

EDITORS: Dr. King is at (814) 863-8184 or at by email.

Penn State

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