Background: Identifying ethnic differences in the age of smoking onset from nationally representative data can lead to improved targeted prevention programs and policies to combat smoking in ethnic communities.
Methods: Analyzing data from the Tobacco Use Supplements of the U.S. Census Bureau's Current Population Surveys throughout the 1990s, differences in the age of regular smoking onset among Asians/Pacific Islanders (A/PI), African Americans (AA), Hispanics/Latinos (H/L) and non-Hispanic whites (WH) are reported. Data on people aged 26 to 50 years at the time of the survey interview (n =130,356; mean age=38.4 years; 47.9% male; 1.9% A/PI, 7.8% AA, 5.2% H/L, and 85.1% WH) were examined.
Results: Results indicate significant ethnic disparities in when people start smoking, among A/PIs in particular, and AAs and H/Ls to a lesser degree, who initiate regular smoking at later ages than do WHs. The majority of A/PIs and AAs initiated smoking as young adults, with almost half (47.8%) of A/PIs who were ever regular smokers starting between ages 18 and 21, compared with 39.8% of AAs, 37.5% of H/Ls, and 36.7% of WHs.
Conclusions: These findings indicate significant ethnic disparities in relation to when people start smoking, with the majority of A/PIs and AAs initiating as young adults. The findings suggest that prevention strategies should begin at a young age and continue throughout young adulthood, especially among ethnic minority populations. Further consideration of the different influences on later initiation in ethnic minorities may lead to suggestions to improve current smoking-prevention programs aimed at adolescents and young adults.