Unfair and Unjust Practices and Conditions Harm Hispanic and Latino People and Drive Health Disparities

Some U.S. historical policies and practices have led to mental and physical health risks and challenges, and related long-term health outcomes, for Hispanic/Latino people. For example:

Historically, Hispanic/Latino people in the U.S. have faced racial, ethnic, and anti-immigrant prejudice, including discrimination in employment, housing, and education.13 Acts of violence and hate crimes have also caused injuries and deaths among Hispanic/Latino people in the U.S. 14,15

Hispanic/Latino people have also experienced discrimination and harm from systems meant to protect and improve health and well-being. Some examples of historical policies and practices that have important implications for the mental and physical health of Hispanic population groups include:

  • State and federal programs in the 1920s sought to change diets of Mexican American families in the U.S. based on the mistaken belief that traditional Mexican foods were less nutritious than standard American diets.16 This resulted in negative effects on Mexican American health. Today, children of Mexican origin in the U.S. are more likely to experience obesity than other children in the U.S. and children who live in Mexico.17
  • Harm and uneven treatment from healthcare systems, such as the sterilization of Hispanic/Latino women without their permission, leading to a mistrust of healthcare systems and medical providers by some Hispanic/Latino people.18,19
  • Discrimination and distress related to immigration policies, such as the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, have led many people who live in immigrant communities to avoid interacting with public officials.20,21 As a result, many Hispanic/Latino people who are legally eligible for public health insurance coverage or health services do not enroll.20 Additionally, anti-immigrant public discourse, as well as decreased access to employment, has caused distress.22

There are also current reasons—like the ones explored below—that help explain why commercial tobacco* affects the health of Hispanic/Latino people.

The tobacco industry targets Hispanic/Latino communities with marketing and advertising.

Marketing plays a big role in whether people try or use commercial tobacco products. Commercial tobacco ads make smoking seem more appealing and increase the chance that someone will try smoking for the first time or start using commercial tobacco products regularly.11,23,24,25

hand-rolled tobacco products

Cigarillos and little cigars are often marketed and advertised to Hispanic and Latino people.

  • Tobacco companies heavily advertise Spanish-language cigarette brand names such as “Rio” and “Dorado” to the Hispanic/Latino community, including ads in many Spanish-language publications.26
  • Tobacco companies have donated to influential community groups, universities and colleges, and scholarship programs supporting Hispanic/Latino people.26 The tobacco industry has also provided significant support to Hispanic/Latino political organizations, cultural events, and the Hispanic/Latino art community.26
  • Tobacco companies use price promotions such as discounts of products like cigarillos and little cigars in neighborhoods with a higher concentration of Hispanic/Latino people. In one study, little cigars and cigarillos were more likely to be sold by stores in communities with a majority of Hispanic/Latino residents (vs majority non-Hispanic White residents). In the same study, most stores surveyed in communities with a majority of Hispanic/Latino residents sold such products for less than $1.27
  • A 2009 federal law prohibited cigarette and smokeless tobacco brand-sponsorship of cultural events, but other product types, like e-cigarettes and little cigars, are not covered by these restrictions. Tobacco companies are still promoting cultural events designed to bring in youth of color – like a recent campaign for little cigars that held pop-up concerts featuring hip-hop stars in convenience stores.28

To help protect Hispanic/Latino people from tobacco marketing and discourage tobacco product use, states and communities could consider increasing prices and prohibiting price discounts, prohibiting the sale of flavored tobacco products, and either allowing fewer stores in a neighborhood to sell commercial tobacco products or prohibiting tobacco product sales altogether.29

Stress can increase commercial tobacco use, and can make health problems worse

When people face many forms of stress—such as that caused by financial problems, discrimination, or unsafe neighborhoods—they can be more likely to smoke.30,31,32 Hispanic/Latino people have been overrepresented among Americans in poverty and, overall, are more likely have lower socioeconomic status than white people.33 One in 6 Hispanic households have at least one person going hungry at some point during the year.34

Racism and discrimination are constant sources of stress for many Hispanic/Latino people.35 Nearly a third of Hispanic/Latino people in the U.S. say they have personally been discriminated against because of their ethnicity:36

Bar chart showing: 31% faced discrimination when trying to rent or buy a place to live 32% faced discrimination regarding equal pay or promotions 33% faced discrimination when applying for jobs

Stress can increase commercial tobacco use, and can make health problems worse

When people face many forms of stress—such as that caused by financial problems, discrimination, or unsafe neighborhoods—they can be more likely to smoke.30,31,32 Hispanic/Latino people have been overrepresented among Americans in poverty and, overall, are more likely have lower socioeconomic status than white people.33 One in 6 Hispanic households have at least one person going hungry at some point during the year.34

Racism and discrimination are constant sources of stress for many Hispanic/Latino people.35 Nearly a third of Hispanic/Latino people in the U.S. say they have personally been discriminated against because of their ethnicity:36

  • 31% Faced discrimination when trying to rent or buy a place to live
  • 32% Faced discrimination regarding equal pay or promotions at work
  • 33% Faced discrimination when applying for jobs

Healthcare itself can be a source of discrimination. Nearly 1 in 5 Hispanic people report they avoid medical care due to concern of being discriminated against or treated poorly.37

When people have severe or long-lasting stress, their bodies respond by raising stress hormones and keeping them raised. When this goes on for a long time, they may develop health problems like high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.38,39 Smoking cigarettes also leads to disease and disability and harms nearly every organ in the body.11

*“Commercial tobacco” means harmful products that are made and sold by tobacco companies. It does not include “traditional tobacco” used by Indigenous groups for religious or ceremonial purposes.
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