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Dear Black Women Who Smoke: A (Tough) Love Letter

It’s actually a painful scene to watch: It’s afternoon, and people outside are darting to and from work, school, wherever. Off to the side, you see a Black woman stepping out for a much needed break. Her hair is on point. She is slaying with her outfit. She may be chatting with other people or thumbing a text message.

Then, she inhales a cigarette.

With all of the messaging and grim statistics around the harms of smoking cigarettes, it’s amazing that some Black women still sign up for this. More than 25% of Black adults, men and women, are still smoking cigarettes. They are all but volunteering for the health crises that come with smoking—like cancer, heart disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

All of these health issues can lead to a slow, painful death. Yet, many of us, still rely on the most feeble excuses to justify the habit.


“But, I’m addicted.”

If you’re into the victim mentality, then this is probably the excuse you throw out.

Yes, cigarettes are known to contain addictive chemicals. But there’s a big difference between an addiction and a life sentence. You can overcome your addiction. That’s an option and right now you’re not choosing it.

Every year, nearly half of daily smokers try to quit. Be one of the ones who actually does it.


“But, I’m stressed.”

Many Black women who still smoke are doing it to cope with stressful jobs, a ratchet neighborhood, drama-filled relatives, financial issues, and the list goes on.

The best option here is often the hardest option: Confront the source of your stress. That might mean making a long-term exit plan to get a new job or a new community. It might mean breaking up with someone, cutting someone off, getting counseling, or simply saying no more often.

If you’re smoking to cope with a deeper issue, you’re actually not coping at all. You’re really just adding trash to the pile when you need to take out the garbage. When you are suffering with health issues that make you dependent on others, please believe none of the people who have caused you the stress are likely to be there, especially your relatives.

black women who smoke

On the other hand, if the source of your stress is truly outside of your control, then it’s time to put your grown woman hat on and find a way to cope that doesn’t kill you. It may not be simple, or easy. But this is changing your life, and you’re worth it.


“But other people have smoked and they didn’t have health issues.”

This is probably the most ridiculous excuse people throw out. They know a few people who were lifelong smokers and died peacefully in their sleep of old age. Then, they know people who didn’t smoke and died organ-by-organ in a hospital.

If this is your excuse, then you’re arguing by exception. You’re taking the least common scenario and acting like it’s the norm. It’s not. The most common scenario is this: Most smokers die prematurely of heart disease, cancer, or other health conditions way before it’s their time.

Had they not smoked, they’d still be here. And you know this. So, stop playing.


“But I tried to quit. I just couldn’t.”

About 75% of Black adults who are daily smokers have tried to quit or want to quit. But they started again. The theory is that Black smokers don’t take advantage of tools to truly stop, like medication or counseling.

Then, there are all those reminders about how easy it is to get cigarettes. Thank the tobacco companies who love to advertise in our neighborhoods. If you have tried to quit in the past, try again. And again. And again. Until you succeed. Involve your doctor as well if you need extra help, like counseling or medication. It’s a medical issue, so don’t be shy about getting medical help for it.


Quit Smoking, Like Yesterday

If you’re still reading this and you haven’t fired off an angry response in the comments, hopefully this tough love letter has struck a chord with you.

Hopefully, you’ve been wanting to quit smoking and are ready to actually do it. Or maybe you have a loved one who you’ve wanted to confront about their smoking habit—because you know sooner or later, their health issues will become your problem.

When Black women who smoke are choosing to do this toxic thing to their bodies, it’s not a time to be passive or worry about offending. You care too much about yourself or your loved one to be that immature.

Let’s get the conversation going about quitting smoking until it’s done. Start with your doctor and the people in your life who will be supportive. And quit, already.

This tough love letter has probably upset some people. But hopefully, you’re just as upset about how smoking is killing Black women as you are about us addressing it. If you’ve overcome a smoking habit, let us know how you did it. If you know any Black women who smoke and are struggling to quit, please send the link to this page.