The Impact of Education and Race on Tobacco Use by American Adults

After decades of public education efforts on the dangers of tobacco use, cigarette smoking remains the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States. New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that in 2019, approximately 20.8 percent of U.S. adults – more than 50 million Americans – used tobacco products.

We do know that higher education has a major impact on rates of smoking and tobacco use. In 2019, more than 43 percent of the adult population who had a GED certificate used tobacco products as did 26.4 percent of adults who had no higher education credential than a high school diploma. For adults with a bachelor’s degree, only 13.1 percent used tobacco products. For adults with a graduate degree, only 8.7 percent used any type of tobacco product.

There are also significant differences in tobacco use by race or ethnic group. In 2019, 20.7 percent of African American adults used tobacco products compared to 23.3 percent of non-Hispanic White adults. Whites were only slightly more likely than African Americans to smoke cigarettes.

African American adults were more likely than non-Hispanic Whites to smoke cigars and pipes. Some 5.1 percent of White adults used electronic smoking devices commonly known as vaping. For African Americans, 3.4 percent of all adults used electronic smoking devices. White adults were nearly seven times as likely as Black adults to use smokeless tobacco products.



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