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Research Article Research Article

Why racial and ethnic discrimination matters in the tobacco fight

Racial and ethnic minorities who are exposed to tobacco marketing and report experiencing discrimination are more likely to smoke, a Truth Initiative® study shows.

The study, published in the Journal of Ethnicity in Substance Abuse, showed that marketing exposure and perceived discrimination were both significantly associated with current cigarette use. This study is the first to examine how these two factors, which have each been shown to drive smoking rates, could jointly impact tobacco use. The findings could help develop more effective solutions for decreasing smoking rates, especially among racial and ethnic minorities, who have a long history of being targeted by the tobacco industry.

Researchers conducted an online survey of a multiethnic group of 505 young adults, ages 18-24, in six American cities to examine whether perceived discrimination and marketing exposure affected their use of tobacco, alcohol and marijuana. The results showed the strongest link with tobacco, with the study stating that there was a “significant interaction between perceived discrimination and exposure to pro-tobacco marketing on risk of cigarette use.”

Tobacco companies spend billions of dollars each year marketing in retail environments, a tactic that disproportionately impacts low-income communities and racial and ethnic minorities. Communities with a greater number of racial and ethnic minorities and low-income populations have more tobacco retailers and more tobacco marketing, which contribute to higher smoking rates. For example, 72 percent of remaining smokers in the U.S. come from low-income communities, a fact exposed in “Worth More,” the latest truth® campaign about tobacco industry exploitation.

Reducing exposure to tobacco marketing, through measures such as restricting retailer density, could decrease tobacco use, but the research shows that focusing on marketing alone is not a comprehensive solution particularly for populations most at risk of discrimination.

“Even though discrimination and marketing are both associated with substance use behavior, discrimination is rarely examined and targeted in public policy interventions,” the study states.  “Findings from our study are a first step in bringing more attention to this important risk factor.”