The findings, published in the April issue of the American Journal of Public Health, challenge traditional beliefs about the abilities of light smokers to easily quit.
"Our understanding of how to get people to quit smoking has been based on those who were the heaviest smokers, that is, those who smoked a pack a day or more," said Dennis Trinidad, a SCGH associate professor and lead researcher in the study. "Now, as the smoking population shifts to include more light smokers, we may need to look for better ways to help them stop."
Partnering with Trinidad on the study were researchers from University of California at San Francisco, University of California at San Diego, and the University of Illinois at Chicago.
The group based its findings on data from the US Census Bureau, which surveyed residents on their smoking habits in partnership with the National Cancer Institute.
The data showed that racial and ethnic minorities are generally more likely than non-Hispanic whites to be light smokers. Yet the percentages of smokers who tried and succeeded at quitting were no better -- and in some cases were markedly worse -- among the minority groups than among non-Hispanic whites.
African Americans, for example, were about half as likely as non-Hispanic whites to succeed at quitting, the study found.
Trinidad and his colleagues concluded that some smoking cessation programs may need to be revised for minority groups. Further, the results could be expanded to suggest that light smokers of all racial and ethnic groups may struggle with quitting just as much as heavy smokers, he said.
Developing successful programs to help them quit will become increasingly important as anti-smoking campaigns, social stigmas, and laws that ban smoking in public, in restaurants, and in the workplace press many people to smoke less.
"We need to get ahead of the wave," Trinidad said. "Light smokers may not even view themselves as addicted, but their risks for health complications are still much higher than for somebody who doesn't smoke."
Trinidad's research examines the social, environmental, and individual factors relevant to racial and ethnic disparities in health and health behaviors. His research has been funded by the American Cancer Society, the California Department of Health Services, the National Cancer Institute and the University of California Office of the President.
About the School of Community and Global Health
Based at Claremont Graduate University in Southern California, the program offers a masters degree in public health and a PhD in health promotion sciences. Its leading faculty researches emerging world issues and focus on preventing illness and disease within communities around the world.
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About Claremont Graduate University: Founded in 1925, Claremont Graduate University is one of the top graduate schools in the United States. Our nine academic schools conduct leading-edge research and award masters and doctoral degrees in 24 disciplines. Because the world’s problems are not simple nor easily defined, diverse faculty and students research and study across the traditional discipline boundaries to create new and practical solutions for the major problems plaguing our world. A Southern California based graduate school devoted entirely to graduate research and study, CGU boasts a low student-to-faculty ratio.