Health disparities in tobacco use and exposure: A structural competency approach


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23 Scopus citations


Fourteen percent of US adults use tobacco products. Because many of those who use tobacco are parents and/or caregivers, children are disproportionately exposed to tobacco smoke. People who use tobacco products often become addicted to nicotine, resulting in tobacco dependence, a chronic, relapsing disease. Tobacco use and exposure are more likely to occur in vulnerable and marginalized groups, including those living in poverty. Although some view tobacco use as a personal choice, evidence suggests that structural forces play an important role in tobacco uptake, subsequent nicotine addiction, and perpetuation of use. Viewing tobacco use and tobacco dependence through a structural competency lens promotes recognition of the larger systemic forces perpetuating tobacco use, including deliberate targeting of groups by the tobacco industry, lack of enforcement of age-for-sale laws, inferior access to health insurance and health care, poor access to cessation resources, and economic stress. Each of these forces perpetuates tobacco initiation and use; in turn, tobacco use perpetuates the user's adverse health and economic conditions. Pediatricians are urged to view family tobacco use as a social determinant of health. In addition to screening adolescents for tobacco use and providing resources and treatment of tobacco dependence, pediatricians are encouraged to systematically screen children for secondhand smoke exposure and support family members who smoke with tobacco cessation. Additionally, pediatricians can address the structural issues perpetuating tobacco use by becoming involved in policy and advocacy initiatives.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2020040253
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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