Education

African American teens and smoking

African American teens smoke less despite media encouragement.

Most teens spend a lot of time watching movies and listening to music. Unfortunately, much of this entertainment sends the wrong message about smoking African American teens smoke less despite media encouragement.

Most teens spend a lot of time watching movies and listening to music. Unfortunately, much of this entertainment sends the wrong message about smoking. One study found that illicit drugs appeared in more than 1 of every 5 movies. No matter what type of movie—action adventure, comedy, or drama—illegal drugs appear all too frequently. Drug use often is shown in scenes that link drugs with wealth, luxury, sexual activity, or risky activities such as crime or violence and driving a car. Most of the time, drug use is shown in a social context. Marijuana appears in movies more often than any other illegal drug. Marijuana and other illicit drugs also show up in many popular songs—in Rap more than other types of music.

Good news!

Despite the steady stream of encouragement to use harmful substances, most African American teens have not been swayed by these examples. In fact, a Federal survey in 2000 showed that about 9 percent of African Americans between 12 and 17 have tried marijuana. This figure was down from about 12 percent the year before and was less than the percentage in the overall teen population. The 5 percent who had used marijuana in the past 30 days also was less than in the previous year.

Reason for caution

The fact that most African American teens have not gone along with the many scenes and messages that encourage marijuana smoking is certainly something to celebrate. But it's too soon to say that the problem has been solved. Too many young people still use this illegal drug as well as other dangerous substances, such as alcohol, tobacco, and ecstasy. Recent declines in marijuana use are encouraging, but trends can change. Only a few years ago, the use of marijuana among all teens, including African Americans, was rising. So, it is important for parents and other responsible adults to remain watchful. This means staying involved in young people's lives, helping them choose friends wisely, providing a consistent no-use message, making and enforcing rules, and keeping track of their activities.

Different influences

Why do adolescents start smoking marijuana? Young people may not like to admit it, but they often are influenced by their peers. And, as we've seen, images and messages in movies, music, and advertising play a big part in encouraging drug abuse. However, a new study showed that, for African American youth, there may be another part of the puzzle. The study found that both African American and Hispanic adolescents are often influenced more by their families than by friends. This means that parents and other older family members must "walk the walk" by setting a good example.

Special risks

Smoking marijuana is a threat to anyone's health. But it's especially dangerous for African Americans, who are more likely than any other racial group to die from lung cancer, heart disease, and stroke. Many African Americans also die from diabetes. Marijuana use has been connected to these health risks.

Marijuana-smoking causes changes in the heart and body's circulation similar to reactions to stress. These changes can result in conditions such as hypertension (high blood pressure), cerebrovascular disease (stroke), and coronary atherosclerosis (coronary artery disease). Marijuana can also harm the lungs. The average marijuana joint contains four times as many toxins and carcinogens as a tobacco cigarette. Also, marijuana smokers inhale deeply and hold the smoke within their lungs, so there is a much greater risk of damage. Marijuana users often get "the munchies"—strong desires for sweets and other foods. Eating these types of food can lead to an increase in blood sugar for diabetics, which can make their medical condition worse.

In addition to the special risks that marijuana poses f

September 6, 2006
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