Wisconsin has the largest disparity in smoking rates between blacks and whites in the nation, but a culture-based treatment program shows promise in closing the gap.
A new editorial published by JAMA, with corresponding author Timothy Baker of the UW-Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention (UW-CTRI), UW Madison School of Medicine and Public Health, examined a combined smoking cessation plan for black tobacco users.
Overall smoking rates have fallen from 20.9% in 2005 to 12.5% in 2020, according to the CDC. However, 18.3% of black people are smokers, according to the UCSF Smoking Cessation Leadership Center. And in Wisconsin, the rate for blacks is even higher at 30%, compared to 12% for whites, according to the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. Black people are also 11 times more likely to smoke menthol cigarettes as the FDA plans to ban their manufacture and sale.
The UCSF Smoking Cessation Leadership Center says black people have a harder time quitting smoking, with 59.1% trying to quit each year and only 3.3% succeeding, half the success rate of white people. The study cited in the JAMA editorial found that the combination of culturally appropriate counseling combined with the smoking cessation drug varenicline – commonly known by the brand name Chantix – more than doubled the success of quitting tobacco for the study group of 500 black people. Using the program, 15.7% were still abstaining from smoking six months later, compared to 6.5% for those using a placebo and taking advice.
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“What is particularly exciting is that these treatments are not uncommon,” said Dr. Michael Fiore, co-author and director of (UW-CTRI). “They’re widely available. They’re covered by Medicaid and many insurance plans.”
Noted co-author Dr. Tim Baker, associate director of UW-CTRI, “This shows the potential value and absolute importance of clinicians attempting to intervene with all of their patients who smoke.”
According to the UCSF Smoking Cessation Leadership Center, black people are lighter smokers, and co-author Dr. Jessica Burris of the University of Kentucky points to research that shows clinicians are less likely to suggest or offer treatment drugs to those who smoke less.
“This may play a role in why black patients tend to use few drugs that we know can help them quit smoking,” Burris said. “This is an incredible opportunity for clinicians to step in and help all patients quit. For African Americans in particular, prescribing varenicline and providing counseling sensitive to unique experiences, strengths and contributing factors black community stress is an effective approach.”
Medical centers can further help smokers quit by identifying smokers using electronic health records and talking to them about treatment options.
For more information on quitting smoking, visit https://www.cdc.gov/quit