The Smoking Scourge Among Urban Blacks

Outside subway stops and bars in parts of this blighted city, slouching hustlers mutter “loosies, loosies” to passers-by, offering quick transactions, 50 cents a stick or three for a dollar.

Their illegal, if rarely prosecuted vocation: selling loose Newport cigarettes to those who do not have $4.50 to buy a pack.

In small corner markets, customers sometimes use code words like “bubble gum” or “napkins” to receive individual cigarettes wrapped in a napkin. Or they buy a flavored Black and Mild, the latest smoking craze here, from an opened five-pack.

Out-of-package sales are common in the poor areas of many cities, an adaptation to meager, erratic incomes and rising cigarette taxes. But researchers say they are just one facet of a high smoking rate among low-income urban blacks.

Even as antismoking campaigns have sharply reduced tobacco use in society at large, smoking has remained far more common among the poor of all races.

What a crying shame. Where are the churches on this matter? Read it all.


Posted in * Culture-Watch

20 comments on “The Smoking Scourge Among Urban Blacks

  1. Br_er Rabbit says:

    The churches (in their own opinions) are fighting bigger fish.
    I know of pastors who have with great difficulty fought (or are still fighting) the scourge of tobacco addiction, and are not sharing that message or struggle with their congregation.

    In the opinion of many ex-crack addicts, tobacco addiction is much more difficult to break than an addiction to crack. Large sections of the church are doing much less than they can to fight this deadly scourge.

  2. physician without health says:

    Br_er rabbit is right on the money; nicotine is much more addictive than heroin and cocaine. There was alot of press this week about the MRSA “superbug” killing roughly 19,000 Americans each year. HIV kills about that number, perhaps 1,000 fewer. Smoking kills about 450,000. This should have us all outraged!

  3. Larry Morse says:

    Welcome to the Mummy society. Those stupid blacks, smoking themselves to death and not paying attention to social pressure to do what is good for them whether they want it done to them or not. All those white faces can’t be wrong, can they?

    How about this? Mind you own damn business and stay out of my face with your rules made for the well-heeled and comfy. The problem with the omniscient Law of Prevention is that there is no place where it cannot stick its impertinent nose on the grounds that someone, somewhere, is doing something that is not good for him. This is what soft tyranny looks like. ANd, My gracious, are they still drinking evil sprits? Have the you and the church checked on whether blacks are eating sufficient vegetables and getting enough fiber? If they haven’t, shouldn’t the church call this deficiency to those benighted black attentions?

    When does this miserable culture decide to leave the poor with some compensations, healthy or not?
    If they want to smoke, what business is it of yours?
    Don’t give me the argument that prevention saves a ton of money. Try being poor first before your preach. And as for yourself, is there nothing in your life that prevention ought to intervene with, that you might not be a burden to the state?

    So, well-heeled fashionable souls,, what are you doing to stop the outrage of drinking. And the damage driving cars does! Look at the number killed and hurt! And the cost! And how about well-heeled doctors and their wives who all drive SUV’s, and whose children who drive SUV’s. We should all be outraged! You pious frauds, leave the poor those few things that ameliorate their lives. Isn’t the thing to do is outlaw all smoking and then arrest all those caught, put them in the slammer and make sure they never get another cigarette?

    Already Weary of the Health Fascists, in Maine

  4. Irenaeus says:

    “Mind you own damn business and stay out of my face” —#3

    What would one hundred randomly selected adults say if you quoted this statement and asked them which of the following the speaker was most likely to be:

    (A) Angry libertarian
    (B) Angry member of Hell’s Angels
    (C) Angry redneck
    (D) Prison gang member
    (E) Christian
    _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

    “So…what are you doing to stop X?”

    Note how you can use this swipe against anyone? It amounts to saying, “Unless you further my preferred agenda, you’re useless and hypocritical.”

  5. Paula Loughlin says:

    I remember being amused that the outrage expressed against the Joe Camel ad campaign missed the obvious. Kids were not the target of that campaign, blacks were.

    And Larry, well said.

  6. D Hamilton says:

    I lost my Mom to smoking …. I am still mad at her. But she needed the nicotine fix that cigarettes provide. I know this because I certainly enjoy the comfort & high of my weekly cigar – even if it is sometimes a once monthly cigar. I can see how it can become an addiction.

    However, her smoking employed farmers, retail staff, health workers, and bureaucrats with her purchase of this legal product and the corresponding taxes she paid. If its so bad, make tobacco consumption illegal and give up the taxes and start the law-enforcement nightmare OR shut-up and thank these folks for paying the taxes and not taxing the crippled Social Security system as much as non-smokers.

  7. Jeffersonian says:

    If parishes want to use moral and spiritual suasion against smoking, I say more power to them. I can’t stand cigarettes or their remnants.

    However, if this is a reprise of TEC’s MDG boondoggle whereby governments are lobbied to compel compliance, you can count on my hostility to the initiative.

  8. The_Archer_of_the_Forest says:

    I would think in Urban areas (cocaine, other drugs) and Rural Areas (crystal meth), cigarettes are the least of anyone’s problems. When I did CPE, if there was a night in the ER where there were less than 20 overdose cases of crystal meth, it was a pretty good night. At least cigarettes are a legal, non-mind altering substance.

  9. NewTrollObserver says:

    I agree with #8, and am rather bemused and befuddled over a concern over nicotine, which, even if more addictive psychologically and physiologically, doesn’t seem to have the world-shattering, catastrophic destructiveness associated with the well-known illegal substances.

  10. Craig Goodrich says:

    According to the article, about 50% of adult black males and 40% of adult black females smoke. That’s right at or slightly below the rate of cigarette smoking in the general adult population in the 1940s and 50s, which now is officially at about 25%.

    We survive. Huffing and puffing a little, but we survive. Right now, in many offices, we’re the only ones who ever get any fresh air during the day. (OK, yeah, wiseacre, we need it worse than most.)

    Ever notice that the same people going ballistic over cigarettes are the same ones promoting healthy sexual experimentation among adolescents and the normalization of homosexuality? Give me a break.

  11. CharlesB says:

    The problem I have with smkng is productivity. I am a supervisor with 7 direct reports. One is a smkr. I don’t think I am exaggerating to say he must spend about two hours of the work day outside in the smkng area. Hard to say anything. My boss is out there, too.

  12. Larry Morse says:

    #4 Angry redneck. I’m a swamp Yankee from New Hampshire, as a matter of fact, so I’m a subset of the group redneck. Do I feel guilty? ACtually no.

    As to the swipe, somthing about the mote on one’s eye?
    As to the damned Mummy soiciety, how can you not be ticked off. In Bangor, they now have a law tht says that you can be arrested for smoking in your own car if your own kids are in it. And someone wants the law for the whole state. And now I can get arrested here if I am not wearing a seat belt. Likewise prevention. ANd now contracptives for 11 year old girls, and the mothers are generally for it! Read today’s NYT. Likewise prevention. There is no limit when the state gets into the Mummy business because prevention itself has no boundaries. What CANNOT you prevent if you have state support? This is the doorway to soft totalitarianism. LM

  13. Charley says:

    AMEN, LARRY. In Memphis, we’re thrilled it’s a Black & Mild and not a crack pipe.

    Black and Mild [b] is pipe tobacco [/b] produced by Middleton; it is merely wrapped in a slightly sweetened cigar wrapper. One can buy it by the pouch and smoke it in a $400 Dunhill Dress Pipe and I suppose it makes it much more acceptable. Doesn’t the Dear ABC smoke an occassional pipe?

  14. Craig Goodrich says:

    #2 asserts, “Smoking kills about 450,000. This should have us all outraged!”

    [url=]No[/url]. Smoking shortens the life of the habitual smoker by typically around ten years. 30-year-olds don’t die from smoking; they do die from AIDS.

  15. physician without health says:

    I will weigh in one more time on this. Yes, I completely agree that the deaths from smoking are in the vast majority of cases delayed until later in life, and there is not the societal disruption that is found with other drugs of abuse. But many of these deaths are slow, painful and ugly deaths. And 45,000 or so are due to passive exposure to second-hand smoke. A recent study in nonsmoking Irish pub workers has shown that since the ban on smoking in the pubs, their lung health has been much improved. The problem here is that folks get hooked by the tobacco companies at a very young age, as depicted in the original article, then they cannot quit. And yes, while most of the deaths occur in later life, there are folk who die at very young ages (30s and 40s) from tobacco. Additionally, infants who are exposed to tobacco at home are at risk for SIDS. I am not suggesting that the government ban tobacco use, but I do think that the public need to be aware of the huge toll that tobacco places on the population, and to work to keep kids from getting addicted to begin with. And in response to #10 above, I can hardly be counted among those who would like to see teens sexually active or folk engaged in same sex marriages. I see a stance on smoking as part of a consistent witness about the sanctity of life.

  16. Irenaeus says:

    Seemingly small changes can help pave the way for big ones.

    1. Anyone remember how New York City went from having one of the highest murder rates of any large city in the United States to one of the lowest? Under Mayor Giuliani, the police began strictly enforcing laws against aggressive panhandling, grafitti scribbling, “squegee men” (who would wash your car windows despite your protests and scratch your paint if you didn’t pay), and public drunkeness. This approach, by supressing minor antisocial conduct, helped create a more orderly environment in which major crimes stood out—and became riskier to commit.

    2. Raising women’s earnings and social status can play a key role in helping people in poor countries escape destitution. As a group, very poor women are more likely than very poor men to save money, spend it prudently for the benefit of the entire family, and avoid self-centered binge consumption.

    Scorn-sodden critics knew that none of this could work. Deter murder by cracking down on squegee men and grafitti scribblers? Help the poorest of the poor not by traditional development projects (e.g., building dams) but by aiding women? Balderdash. But it works.

    Consider some of the adverse consequences of cigarette addiction:

    — Smoking poses serious health risks not only to smokers but to those around them.

    — Children of smoking parents are far more likely to become smokers than children on nonsmoking parents.

    — Smoking adults daily offer children a subtler, more pervasive example in poor impulse-control. This example becomes all the more pointed when my children see that I give cigarattes first claim on my scarce dollars.

    — Smoking is expensive. Money not spend on cigarettes could, over time, build savings that would facilitate avoiding loan sharks and overpriced check-cashers and moving to better rental housing (for which one must prepay rent and security deposit). At $4.50 a day, a three-pack-a-day habit costs $5,000 a year. Having even $1,000 in the bank would make a positive difference for many poor people.
    _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

    Kendall rightly suggested that churches should have something to say on this subject. In response we see verbal tantrums about Prohibition, elitism, totalitarianism, and contraceptives for 11-year olds—none of which have any connection to churches speaking out about smoking and its consequences.

    Some of these tantrum even evoke such revisionist mantras as “Don’t you go making value judgments!” or “You have no business trying to impose your morality on me by criticizing my lifestyle.”

  17. Larry Morse says:

    Give me a break ,Irenaeus. Do the poor spend money on tobacco that they shouldn’t spend? Says who? You? Trying being poor and having no placce to go. But look, wouldn’t we do better weeding the sale of alcohol from the gardens of the poor? Think how much they spend of it? So stupid! Have y ou suggested legislation to outlaw or withhold alcohol from those who cn’t afford it it? You would, of course,leave alcohol is place for those who CAN afford it. An important difference. What’s worse, drinking poses dangers to those around them. Dangerous stuff. And while I am about it, shall we not outlaw allowing the poor to buy lotter y tickets and gamblilng in the casinos. Think how much they waste, how much better off they’ld be if we made them save the money in the bank. In short, Irrenaeus, who do you think you’re kidding?

    And don’t you have anything better to do, doesn’t a church have anything better to do than get its collective bowels in an uproar over second hand smoke? Think how doubtful the “evidence” is for second hand smoke. But surely we must protect people from second hand smoke? But how? Why, arrest the smokers. They’re hurting everyone else! IN fact, Irenaeus, let’s protect everyone from everything that might harm them, because if we do, then the state will be saved enormous sums of money and everyone will be much happier if they are protected from themselves. And there you have it: Shall we protect everyone from themselves because that is the church’s and the states responsiblity? That’s where the Mummy society leads, one most miserable effect of liberal agendas, to soft totalitarianism where everyone is obliged to submit to protection. You live in that state, Irenaeus; don’t try to suck the church into it as well. or me either. Do-gooders are nice if fried in deep fat and judiciously salted and peppered.

    Is this a temper tantrum? Do I care? Is it really wise or necessary to outlaw the “simple pleasures of the poor?” Only the pious arrogant will castigate the poor for having the careless and fiscally irresponsible pleasures that are left when you can’t even afford medical coverage or pay your rent. LM

  18. Irenaeus says:

    Larry [#17]: Neither Kendall nor I have proposed outlawing anything. Your harping about legislative prohibition and totalitarianism underscores that you are reacting to things that neither we nor others on this thread are saying.

  19. CharlesB says:

    I recommend the book A Framework For Understanding Poverty by Ruby Payne. Several comments above reflect a middle-class perspective. It might surprise you to see how people in generational poverty–many are urban blacks–view the expense of smoking, saving money and other things that have been brought up here.

  20. Irenaeus says:

    CharlesB [#19]: Values like work, thrift, self-control, and personal responsibility can fairly be called middle class. How would you propose that people work their way out of poverty with values antithetical to those? Popular culture promotes antithetical values (e.g., impulsiveness, extravagance, and irresponsibility). Are those what you propose to “accept” and affirm, lest the church be thought insular?