Smoking is especially bad for people with dark skin because melanin hangs onto nicotine. Stronger addiction means it's harder for those who are darker-skinned to kick the habit. In fact, white smokers are 15% better at quitting than blacks even though they smoke more cigarettes a day.

New research says just how addictive smoking is for you depends on the color of your skin, and reveals the link between nicotine and melanin.

Smoking is especially bad for people with dark, melanin-rich skin.
Smoking is especially bad for people with dark, melanin-rich skin.

Inhaling thousands of chemicals is not a good idea. But it is especially bad for people with dark, melanin-rich skin. That’s because melanin grabs and hangs onto the nicotine.

Dr. Gary King from Pennsylvania State University studied nicotine — the highly addictive stimulant that makes people crave cigarettes — and melanin, a compound your body makes that determines how dark you are. And he found a connection.

According to Dr. King, the melanin is strongly attracted to nicotine, and the way it works is when you light up a cigarette, the tobacco and all the chemicals created when it burns into your mouth, into your lungs and the rest of your organs, including your biggest organ … skin.

“Skin does react like every other organ in the body unto nicotine and the other 4,000 chemicals that are consumed when one actually smokes,” said Dr. King. “And that binding process in and of itself may lead to greater dependence.”

Greater dependence means it’s much harder for darker skinned people to kick the habit. In fact white smokers on average are 15 percent better at quitting than blacks. Even though whites typically smoke about five more cigarettes a day.

“Nicotine doesn’t remain in the body for an extended period of time, which is one reason why smokers continually have to replenish their supply,” said Dr. King. “The suggestion is that it does remain in their body much longer for African Americans than white Americans. African Americans typically smoke fewer cigarettes than Caucasian Americans and some other groups but yet still the dependence rate is much higher.”



Extracts from a Public Radio International article, published 8 September 2009 (original)