Many smokers are Native American Midwesterners, data shows

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

I admit it. I used to be a smoker in my early adult years.

I didn’t smoke much, and when I did it was infrequent. At the height of this terrible habit, I smoked about two cigarettes a day and maybe up to eight if I was out for an evening with friends. More often, a pack went stale before I had a chance to finish it.

At the time, I fell into three categories identified by the Pew Research Center as having high rates of smoking: Poor, Midwesterner and American Indian.

First, I must acknowledge that the data referenced by Pew –which is from a 2011 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent National Institute of Health survey — includes responses from Native Americans. Followers of this blog know that I have been advocating for more data on Native Americans. In a recent post, Portland State University professor Cynthia-Lou Coleman listed the CDC as a source that consistently studies American Indian and Alaska Natives, and this is one example.

Second, it’s unfortunate that when I finally cite a study in this blog about Native Americans, it classifies them as having the highest rate of smokers of all demographic groups. But that’s the kind of data needed to capture a glimpse of, for example, possible health risks among Native people.

According to a graphic included in a news item released today by Pew, the profile of someone who smokes the most in the U.S. would be an American Indian male, in the age group of 25 to 44, lives in the Midwest and hasn’t finished high school.

That’s worrisome.

The least would be an “Asian female,” in the age group of 65 and older, lives in the West and holds a graduate degree.

Socioeconomic status and level of education appear to have the greatest impact on whether someone smokes. Pew also stated the following in its release:

Smoking rates today are highest among the poor and less-educated, according to government data. For instance, 29% of people living belo

w the official poverty level smoke, versus 17.9% of people at or above poverty. People whose highest educational level is a General Educational Development (GED) certificate — typically high-school dropouts — are nine times more likely to smoke than people with graduate degrees (45.3% versus 5%)

Pew came out with these statistics in light of the announcement this week by the CVS drug store chain that it will stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products by Oct. 1.

In its announcement on Feb. 5, CVS Caremark said the decision was “simply the right thing to do for the good of our customers and our company” and that selling tobacco products is “inconsistent with our purpose – helping people on their path to better health.”

The drug store chain said it expects to lose $2 billion in potential tobacco sales because of the decision; however, Pew points out that “CVS is leaving a shrinking business: Not only do fewer Ame

ricans smoke, but those who still do are smoking less.”

Still, it should be noted that smoking comes with serious health consequences. In its 2011 report, the CDC reported the following:

Tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of death and disease in the United States. According to the 2010 U.S. Surgeon General’s report, approximately 443,000 U.S. adults die from smoking-related illnesses each year. … In addition, smoking has been estimated to cost the United States $96 billion in direct medical expenses and $97 billion in lost productivity annually.

Regardless of CVS’s main motivation for its decision, it’s a good step in attempting to deter people from smoking and the health risks that come with it.

That’s a message that should be heard in Indian Country and taken seriously.

Follow me on Twitter @karenmichel.


2 thoughts on “Many smokers are Native American Midwesterners, data shows

  1. That’s a message everyone should hear. I’m looking up CVS next to see if they have a location near me, so I can send them more business. Getting out of the tobacco industry takes guts. Good on CVS!

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