Latest Asian-American tobacco use data reported

10/19/04

Speaking English may be hazardous to your health?

(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) -- California's Asian Americans smoke at a lower rate than the state's population as a whole, but the better an Asian California woman's English, the more likely she is to smoke.

The findings were reported today at the 5th Asian American Cancer Control Academy, a meeting sponsored by the National Cancer Institute and its Asian American Network for Cancer Awareness, Research and Training (AANCART).

"Because one of every three Asian Americans in the United States lives in California, these findings have significance well beyond the borders of our state," said Moon S. Chen, Jr., professor of public health sciences at UC Davis School of Medicine and Medical Center and principal investigator for AANCART, an $8.5 million project funded by the National Cancer Institute.

"The good news is that the overall decline we've seen in smoking among Asian Californians could be achieved in other states -- at the same time, the worrisome sign of higher smoking prevalence among the most acculturated young Asian American women in California could be indicative of a trend in the rest of the country as well. We've come a long way, but we still have a long way to go," Chen said.

The latest tobacco use statistics for Asian Americans in California reveal dramatic variations from one Asian American subgroup to another. For example, 36 percent of Korean American men and 32 percent of Vietnamese American men smoke cigarettes, according to Hao Tang, a research scientist for the Tobacco Control Section of the California Department of Health Services. That's the highest rate for any of the six Asian American subgroups studied -- Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, South Asian and Vietnamese -- and well above the 20 percent rate for all California men.

Among women, Vietnamese Americans have the lowest smoking rate of any of the Asian subgroups studied, at 1 percent. Japanese American women have the highest, at 13 percent. The overall rate for Asian American women is 7 percent, versus 14 percent for all California women.

Researchers also found an intriguing relationship between English fluency and smoking rates. "Among Asian American males, high English fluency speakers had significantly lower smoking prevalence when compared to low English fluency speakers -- 17 percent versus 25 percent. But the pattern was completely the opposite for Asian women," Tang said. "Those with the highest English fluency were significantly more likely to smoke than Asian women with lower English fluency -- 11 percent versus 4 percent." English fluency has often been used as an indicator for acculturation in ethnic research.

"This implies that a cookie-cutter intervention strategy for all Asians may not be possible," Tang said. "It also suggests that over time, as more Asian American women become more acculturated, they may become more susceptible to adopting smoking. Therefore de-normalizing tobacco use for Asian American females as they acculturate to a Western lifestyle may be one of our next big challenges."

California has one of the earliest and most comprehensive Asian-specific tobacco education programs in the nation. Since 1990, the Tobacco Control Section has produced more than 25 television and radio ads in Korean, Vietnamese, Cantonese, Mandarin, Hmong and Laotian. Print and outdoor ads have been produced in those languages as well as in Tagalog, Khmer, Thai and Japanese. The ads have had three goals: to educate Asian Americans about the dangers of exposure to secondhand smoke, to expose the tobacco industry's targeted campaign to recruit new Asian smokers, and to promote tobacco cessation. Toll-free tobacco "quitlines" have been offered in Vietnamese, Mandarin, Cantonese and Korean, as well as English and Spanish.

In addition, the Tobacco Control Section has awarded competitive grants to community-based agencies in California that serve Asian Americans, with the goal of cultivating the leadership needed to mobilize communities to advocate for policies to protect themselves from the dangers of tobacco.

The National Cancer Institute's AANCART project, headquartered at UC Davis, has been an important ally in the effort to develop and implement successful tobacco control programs for Asian Americans.

The 5th Asian Cancer Control Academy is a meeting of researchers from the eight institutions that make up AANCART: UC Davis, UCLA, UCSF, the University of Washington, the University of Hawaii, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas, Harvard University and Columbia University.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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