Mexican-Americans smoke earlier—but quit

UC DAVIS (US) — Mexican-Americans born in the United States start smoking at an earlier age than their counterparts in Mexico but are also more likely to quit.

The study on migration-related changes in smoking behavior also shows that while the likelihood of starting or stopping smoking varies dramatically with migration from Mexico to the US, the number of cigarettes that smokers consume each day remains for the most part the same.

Mexican-Americans are more likely to start and to stop smoking than people in Mexico, but on an average day, Mexican-Americans who smoke consume only slightly more cigarettes than Mexicans who smoke. In contrast, the amount smoked per day by Mexican-American smokers is about half that smoked per day by non-Hispanic white smokers in the US.


Despite the relatively low level of cigarette consumption per day, smoking among Mexican-Americans remains a significant public-health problem.

“Everyone in the US is smoking much less than in the past,” says lead author Elisa Tong, an associate professor of internal medicine at the University of California, Davis. “But even light smoking is a risk factor for cardiovascular and pulmonary disease.

“Although US-born Mexican-Americans are smoking more, they’re quitting more. Studies of this kind help us understand the cultural and psychological factors involved in quitting smoking so that effective public health programs can be developed to encourage even more smoking cessation in this population.”

The research team, led by principal investigator Joshua Breslau, now a researcher at the RAND Corporation in Pittsburgh, includes researchers from both the US and Mexico.

“We have learned a great deal by studying changes in physical health, mental health and health behavior associated with migration,” Breslau says. “In this study, it was particularly valuable to observe a migrant population in both the originating and receiving countries.”

For the study published in the American Journal of Public Health, the team combined several population-based surveys from both countries and examined differences in starting and stopping smoking and in cigarette consumption among daily smokers across a series of groups with increasing contact with the US.

The groups included Mexicans with no familial connection to migration at one end of the spectrum through US-born Mexican-Americans at the other. The surveys included several thousand participants on both sides of the border as part of a series of epidemiological psychology studies from 2001 to 2003.

The study was supported primarily by the National Institute of Mental Health and the American Cancer Society. Guilherme Borges of the Instituto Nacional Psiquiatría Ramón de la Fuente Muniz in Mexico City contributed to the research.

Source: UC Davis