A new study has shown that the perception of discrimination increases the amount teenage minority boys smoke but does not increase the amount teenage minority girls smoke.
While the researchers from the Indiana University School of Medicine, found that minority boys smoke more when they perceived discrimination, girls reacted differently. There does not appear to be an association between perceived discrimination and smoking in minority girls, ages 12 to 15.
For minority girls ages 16 to 19, perceived discrimination is associated with lower, not higher, rates of smoking.
"We looked at the association between self-reported discrimination and adolescent smoking because both the perception of discrimination and the rate of smoking are so high in minority teens," said study first author Sarah E. Wiehe, assistant professor of pediatrics at the IU School of Medicine and a Regenstrief Institute affiliated scientist.
"Our findings in girls, especially in the older girls, really surprised us. We do not know why older girls who perceived discrimination were less likely to smoke but there may be a possibility that they perceived discrimination because they were pregnant and also that they did not smoke due to the pregnancy," she added.
The researchers investigated 2,561 black and Latino adolescents, ages 12-19, from low-income households residing in Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York.
One in four of these adolescents reported discrimination in at least one setting in the last six months. Twelve percent reported smoking in the last 30 days.
Dr. Wiehe said she and her colleagues studied the association between perceived discrimination and adolescent smoking because the rates of both are so high in minority teens.
"Boys and girls may experience discrimination differently due to where they spend time and that may account for the differences in whether discrimination was associated with smoking," Wiehe said.
"In other words, the context of discrimination matters. We need to be aware that discrimination is a public health problem for adolescents - one related to major health issues like smoking - and need to actively work to reduce these occurrences," Wiehe added.
This study is to be published in the March 2010 issue of the American Journal of Public Health.