December 3, 2012

Hispanics and Smoking: Basic Facts

12.5% of Hispanic adults in the United States smoke cigarettes. This percentage is less than the general population (19.1%). Compared to the general population, Hispanics smoke less cigarettes per day, and they also tend to be non-daily or intermittent smokers. Because of this, it's easy to believe that tobacco addiction - or smoking in general - isn't a problem in the Hispanic community. To understand the problem of smoking among Hispanics, we have to look past the percentages and to the reasons why they smoke.

Men smoke more - 15.8% of Hispanic men smoke, while only 9% of women smoke.

Hispanics from certain countries smoke more - In 2008, a study showed that in the United States the following rates of smoking per nationality: 21.5% of Cubans, 18.6% of Puerto Ricans, 15.8% of Mexicans, 12.8% of South/Central Americans, and 10.7% of Dominicans.

Those who are born in the United States smoke more - Among Mexicans who live in the United States, 20.1% of those born here smoke, compared to 11.6% of immigrants. A review of studies found that increased smoking prevalence was observed with increased acculturation among Hispanic women, but not for Hispanic men.

"Although the percentage of Hispanics who smoke is less than the general population, Hispanic people have a more difficult time quitting smoking," says. Dr. Yessenia Castro from the University of Texas at Austin. "It's important to understand the social reasons why we smoke."

Many times, Hispanics don't smoke because of addiction, but rather, because of social pressure, or because smoking offers a way to elevate one's socio-economic status. Among women, sometimes it's because it offers a way to express certain social freedoms that weren't possible in their country of origin. Many times, it's because of stress from work or being far away from one's family.

For people who don't consider smoking an addiction, it's easy to not think of it as a problem. The way of thinking is...if I'm not an addict, then I don't have to quit. But smoking causes health problems, even if it's not an addiction.

"Hispanics are less likely to seek out professional help, or to use medical treatments to quit smoking. It's also less probably that medical professionals will ask them about their smoking habits, or that they will offer them resources and help to quit smoking," adds Dr. Castro.

The Hispanic community faces many obstacles that make it more difficult to quit smoking and to recover from addiction. Especially in low-income areas, there is little or no access to the following:
  • Professional/medical help
  • Information or resources in Spanish
  • Education about health and the consequences of smoking
Smoking causes many health problems, such as heart disease, heart attacks, strokes, and cancer - especially lung cancer. Cancer is the second leading cause among Hispanics - 1 in 5 (or 20%) of Hispanics die from cancer, and smoking is the main cause of cancer.

"Some medical professional recommend that we use our social networks as an effective way to encourage Hispanics to quit smoking," comments Dr. Castro. "Social support is very important, especially in helping our family members and friends who smoke, to understand the hardships caused by addiction and the harm it does to children."

Live Tobacco Free Austin has great resources to get you started if you're looking to quit smoking, or you're wanting to help a friend or family member quit. It's also available in Spanish.

You can also download a fact sheet about Hispanics and Smoking from the American Legacy Foundation.


Yessenia Castro, Ph.D., earned her doctoral degree in clinical psychology from The Florida State University in 2008. She completed a postdoctoral training program at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in 2010 that focused on disparities-related research among minority and underserved populations, with an emphasis on smoking cessation among Latinos. 

She is an Assistant Professor in the School of Social Work at the University of Texas at Austin, where she studies the influence of cultural adaptation variables on cancer risk behavior among Latinos. She is particularly interested in understanding how cultural variables combine with known key determinants of smoking to affect cessation outcomes. Her work also incorporates understanding determinants of multiple cancer risk behaviors among Latinos, and she collaborates on research examining social determinants of smoking cessation among individuals of low socioeconomic status and other special populations of smokers.

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