January 29, 2006

Blacks, smoking, and lung cancer

The Washington Post reports

Blacks are much more likely than whites to get lung cancer from smoking cigarettes, according to a large study that provides significant new evidence in the debate over whether race plays an important role in health.

The eight-year study of more than 183,000 people found that blacks and ethnic Hawaiians are about 55 percent more likely than whites to develop lung cancer from light to moderate smoking. Japanese Americans and Latinos are about 50 percent less likely than whites, the researchers found.

Although previous studies have indicated that smoking poses varying degrees of risk to people from different racial and ethnic backgrounds, the size and sophistication of the study, being published in today's issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, make it the most convincing to date, the researchers said.

"We observed quite striking differences," said Christopher A. Haiman of the University of Southern California, who led the study. "This suggests there are racial and ethnic differences in the smoking-related risk of lung cancer."

The study rekindles a long-running and emotional debate about whether race is important in understanding why some people are more prone to certain diseases, whether treatments should be tailored to racial and ethnic groups, and whether biological differences help explain why racial minorities are so much more likely than whites to get sick, respond less well to treatment and die younger.

Well, that should be "some racial minorities:" the life expectancy of, say, Japanese-American women is now approaching 90 years.

Above one pack per day of cigarettes, however, the racial effect disappears. If you smoke as much as Edward R. Murrow, you're likely to wind up like him no matter who your ancestors were.

Can't we do better than use "Hispanic" as a racial category in medical studies? It's an ethnic category, so it doesn't belong in a study looking at the impact of genes. The use of "Hispanic" confuses doctors because in the East, "Hispanic" typically means "part black" and in the West, it means "part Indian." Would it be impossible to teach medical researchers and doctors to use ancient but more accurate terms like mulatto and mestizo? I realize those are currently considered insensitive, but needless death is more insensitive.

An interesting sidelight is that black kids don't smoke much at all these days. Black high school students only smoke about half as much as white high school students.

By the way, on a tangential note, here's an NYT article on the large number of black football running backs who play chess as a hobby. NFL stars Shaun Alexander and Priest Holmes promote chess for children. Quite a few black men play chess. At my old company, the guys who played chess everyday at lunch, half were black, whereas the male workforce was probably only 1/10th black.

The first African-American grandmaster is Maurice Ashley, who reached that rank in 1999.


My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

1 comment:

John said...

Nice observation, thanks.