Tobacco use is more than a “bad habit.” It’s a social justice issue

Published on November 30, 2017

Updated on March 5, 2018

Tobacco use is more than a “bad habit.” It’s a social justice issue

The number of teens smoking little cigars and cigarillos (LCCs) is growing at an alarming rate, particularly among African-Americans―a group with higher cancer incidence and death rates than other ethnicities. LCCs are tobacco products that are inhaled like cigarettes and are similar in size, shape and filtering. LCCs also have the same health risks as cigarettes and can cause several types of cancer.

The Prevent Cancer Foundation® is funding a study lead by Kymberle Sterling, Dr.PH., M.P.H, at Georgia State University Research Foundation, Inc. in Atlanta, to understand how factors in environment, like exposure to advertising, influence susceptibility and intention to use LCCs.

Dr. Sterling’s team will examine how LCC advertisements and other environmental factors affect young people’s susceptibility and intention to use LCCs. African-American communities that are socioeconomically disadvantaged have higher availability of flavored LCCs, greater outdoor LCC advertising and lower product pricing.

“We hope that findings from this study will help us develop a youth-centered advocacy campaign that brings awareness to the consequences of LCC use and environmental factors that promote its use among African-Americans,” said Dr. Sterling.

Although the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began regulating LCCs and other tobacco products in May 2016, it has not implemented the same strict regulations as it has on cigarettes. Companies producing LCCs have fewer advertising and marketing restrictions and there are no minimum pack size requirements. LCCs are also available in kid-friendly flavors like vanilla and grape, attracting younger consumers.

“I learned about the marketing tactics that the tobacco industry used to target and attract certain groups―like young people, people of color, individuals who did not have a lot of money―to use their products. I began to realize that tobacco use was more than just a ‘bad habit’ that smokers needed to break. Rather, tobacco use is an important social justice issue that needed to be addressed,” said Dr. Sterling.

This realization led to her passion for preventing young people from using tobacco, particularly in communities of color.

We look forward to hearing updates from Dr. Sterling as her team works to understand how to prevent African-American youth from smoking LCCs. Learn more about the research projects the Foundation is currently funding.

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