How Tobacco Relates to Health Equity

by Aadhi Sivakumar

Tobacco is a plant grown for its leaves, which is dried and fermented before being placed in tobacco products. It contains a chemical called nicotine, an ingredient that leads to addiction, so it is hard to quit smoking. In 2019, an estimated 14% of adults in the US were current cigarette smokers (Current). Additionally, about 5% of American teens smoked in 2020 (Youth). Although the rate of tobacco use is decreasing, it is still affecting health equity severely, and is impacting marginalized communities as a whole. By burning tobacco, it releases toxins including tar and carbon monoxide. These toxins pollute the environment and cause second-hand smoke, known as Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS). ETS is what marginalized groups suffer from, as they breathe in the second-hand smoke caused by Americans. They are receiving social injustice since they are receiving the effects of pollution caused by tobacco but are barely contributing to it. 


According to the National Academy of Sciences which stated that “Scientists calculate that Hispanics on average breathe in 63 percent more of the pollution that leads to heart and breathing deaths than they make. For African-Americans, the figure is 56 percent”(Borenstein). This shows how marginalized groups breathe in more pollution caused by tobacco than they are causing due to the environment they are forced to live in as well as other factors. This percentage of marginalized groups breathing in toxins is significantly greater than whites as the National Academy of Sciences state that “non-Hispanic whites on average are exposed to 17 percent less air pollution than they make” (Borenstein). Again, this emphasizes the relationship between tobacco and health equity as marginalized groups aren’t the one’s contributing as much to our pollution but are the ones who have to suffer from it. Their health equity is reduced significantly as they don’t have the same chance to achieve their best health as non-marginalized groups.


The main reason for this occurrence of why marginalized groups are breathing in more toxins produced by tobacco and other factors is because they are forced to live in less ideal conditions. Often, marginalized groups have to live in dirty environments which are densely polluted. These groups also don’t always have access to hygiene tools so their health equity is lowered as a result. This has always been the cause where African Americans and Latinos were severely affected by the laws put out for them. They had segregation laws in which marginalized groups could only live in red-lined areas; areas in which were worthless and heavily polluted. Now, they are forced to work jobs such as in factories or mining.  According to the Center of American Progress, “Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders (68.5 percent), people of Two or More Races (66.6 percent), and Hispanics (66.3 percent) had the highest labor force participation rates”(Composition). This explains how marginalized groups have the highest labor force participation such as working in factories. These jobs demand workers to function in  polluted areas which like toxins produced by tobacco are affecting their health. 


To conclude, tobacco has a direct relationship to health equity as marginalized groups don’t contribute as much to the toxins/pollutants in the air caused by elements such as tobacco but are the ones who have to experience it the most. They breathe in the harmful pollutants and live in unideal environments where they have to suffer and don’t have the opportunity to reach their best health. These cause marginalized groups to experience health problems such as lung cancer and chronic diseases. It may seem as if pollution is slowly affecting our world through global warming, but people don’t realize it is affecting part of the society constantly.

Work Cited

Borenstein, Seth. “Blacks, Hispanics Breathe More Pollution than They Make.” AP NEWS, Associated Press, 11 Mar. 2019,

“Composition of the Labor Force.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1 Oct. 2019,

“Current Cigarette Smoking among Adults in the United States.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 10 Dec. 2020,

“Youth and Tobacco Use.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 16 Dec. 2020, 


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