Despite decreases in the overall US smoking rate, tobacco use remains more common in some areas and by some groups. Deeper understanding of group differences is needed in order to tailor public health campaigns to the interests, perceptions and experiences of targeted audiences. Although some differences have been identified across African American and Caucasian smokers in the United States, additional insight is needed regarding factors that differentiate these groups. This study examined tobacco related perceptions and practices, with an emphasis on identifying differences across African American and Caucasian smokers. Toward this goal, we examined key demographic variables of race and age, and tobacco use characteristics.

The sample consisted of 284 people from the Jackson, Mississippi area who participated in focus groups and completed surveys addressing a variety of tobacco related topics, including knowledge and perceptions of products as well as use and health information seeking behavior. The selection criteria and recruitment approach ensured a balance across race (black, white), age (18–34, >35 years), sex, and cigarette smoking status (current, former, never). Statistical analyses were performed using SAS (v.9.4).

Differences were observed across demographic subgroups regarding type and pattern of tobacco products used (e.g. mentholated, markers of nicotine dependence, hookah). Differences in preferred sources of health information based on age as well as perceptions of risk as a function of age, smoking status and race were also noted. Exposure to secondhand smoke and perceptions of its risks, quitting efforts and cessation methods differed by race.

Study findings suggest key differences across important subgroups. Knowledge of such differences has the potential to improve strategic public health messaging, allowing health campaigns to more effectively prevent tobacco product uptake as well as promote interest in quitting tobacco.

We extend special thanks to Elandra Felix who conducted participant recruitment and various study activities, and Debbra Hunter who assisted with administrative aspects of study implementation.
The authors have each completed and submitted an ICMJE form for disclosure of potential conflicts of interest. The authors declare that they have no competing interests, financial or otherwise, related to the current work. All authors report grants from National Institutes of Health during the conduct of the study.
This work was supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and FDA Center for Tobacco Products under Award Numbers P50HL120163 and U54HL120163. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the NIH, the Food and Drug Administration, or the American Heart Association. The funding sponsors had no role in study design; data collection, analyses, or interpretation; manuscript preparation; or the decision to publish the results.
Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.
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