Introduction: Compared to the majority of non-Hispanic white ("white") cigarette smokers, many African American smokers demonstrate a later age of initiation. The goal of the present study was to examine African American late-onset smoking (ie, regular smoking beginning at age 18 or later) and determine whether late-onset (vs. early-onset) smoking is protective in terms of quit rates and health outcomes.
Methods: We used data from the National Survey of Midlife Development in the United States (MIDUS) because the wide age range of participants (20-75 at baseline) allowed the examination of smoking cessation and mortality incidence across the lifespan.
Results: Consistent with previous research, results indicated a later average age of smoking onset among African Americans, compared to whites. Disentangling effects of race from age-of-onset, we found that the cessation rate among late-onset African American smokers was 33%, whereas rates for early-onset African American smokers and early- and late-onset white smokers ranged from 52% to 57%. Finally, results showed that among white, low-socioeconomic status (SES) smokers, the hazard rate for mortality was greater among early- versus late-onset smokers; in contrast, among African American smokers (both low- and high-SES) hazard rates for mortality did not significantly differ among early- versus late-onset smokers.
Conclusions: Although late (vs. early) smoking onset may be protective for whites, the present results suggest that late-onset may not be similarly protective for African Americans. Tobacco programs and regulatory policies focused on prevention should expand their perspective to include later ages of initiation, in order to avoid widening tobacco-related health disparities.
Implications: This study indicates that late-onset smoking is not only the norm among African American adult smokers, but that late- versus early-onset smoking (ie, delaying onset) does not appear to afford any benefits for African Americans in terms of cessation or mortality. These results suggest that prevention and intervention efforts need to consider individual groups (not just overall averages) and that tobacco control efforts need to be targeted beyond the teenage years. Tobacco programs and regulatory policies focused on prevention should expand their perspective to include later ages of initiation, to avoid widening tobacco-related health disparities.
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