03/16/2012 05:22 pm ET Updated Mar 16, 2012

Smoking Rates Increase With Perceived Racial Discrimination, Study Says

As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) rolls out its graphic anti-smoking ad campaign next week, researchers at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis are honing in on what drives people to smoke in the first place.

For racial and ethnic minority groups, discrimination may be a key factor, according to a study of over 85,000 people, which found that the odds of smoking increased among individuals who perceived that they were treated differently because of their race.

In a release highlighting the findings published in the American Journal of Public Health, study author Jason Q. Purnell says the study reveals a potentially high-risk group of individuals who report feeling unfairly treated because of their race and who may be smoking as a means of coping with the psychological distress associated with discrimination.

Though they did not look at the link to discrimination, previous studies have shown that using smoking as a method of relieving stress can actually have an adverse effect, causing long-term stress levels to rise, not fall, the New York Times reported in 2010.

The CDC's ramped up efforts to curb adult smoking, which experts say is the leading preventable cause of mortality in the United States, follows less successful efforts, including raising tobacco taxes and implementing smoking bans.

But African-Americans have been particularly difficult to sway, accounting for approximately 12 percent of the 46 million adult smokers in the United States, according to 2008 numbers from the American Lung Association.

A study conducted by researchers at Columbia University that year found that African Americans and Hispanics have a harder time quitting smoking than whites do, though their report linked it to worries about weight gain or lack of support in quitting.

“It’s important to understand the factors that promote smoking among racial and ethnic minority groups,” Purnell says, suggesting that alternative forms of coping with discrimination may be a fruitful area of discussion in counseling interventions designed to help individuals quit smoking.

While smoking rates among blacks tends to be lower overall, African Americans are more likely to develop and die of lung cancer than their white counterparts, the American Lung Association reports.



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