Washington minority groups hit hardest by tobacco use

Washington state minority communities are more likely to use tobacco and suffer or die from tobacco-related illnesses than the rest of the state’s population, according to the Washington State Department of Health.

That is why the department is announcing plans to spend $1 million annually in African American, American Indian and Alaska native, Asian American and Asian Pacific Islander, Latino and sexual minority communities. The funds will be used to help eliminate tobacco use, reduce exposure to deadly secondhand smoke and counter the influence of tobacco company advertising.

"Tobacco is not an equal opportunity killer," said state Secretary of Health Mary Selecky. "We need to provide resources to at-risk populations so they can fight tobacco use, educate community members about the harm it causes and support those who want to quit." The Department of Health has been successful in reducing smoking rates since it began a tobacco prevention and control program in 2000. However, more than 20 percent of adults still smoke, and 55 kids start smoking every day. In many racial, ethnic, or poor communities, the rates are higher:

  • American Indians and Alaskan natives - 39 percent
  • African Americans - 25 percent
  • Less than high school education - 40 percent
  • Vietnamese men  -38 percent
  • In addition to higher smoking rates, these populations also often suffer more illnesses from tobacco use. For example, African Americans have the highest incidence of lung cancer of all major racial and ethnic groups.

    The Department of Health’s Tobacco Prevention and Control Program called together a Cross-Cultural Workgroup, which included members of each at-risk population, to study the individual challenges and the current anti-tobacco efforts in their communities. The workgroup has developed three to five-year goals.

    Building on that work, advisory councils in each community are tailoring strategies to address their specific needs. Proposed strategies include developing culturally appropriate materials, increasing community involvement and developing programs to prevent kids from beginning to use tobacco.

    "Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in Washington. Unfortunately, it affects some populations more than others," according to State Health Officer Dr. Maxine Hayes. "We are beginning to look at the root causes and see if we can make a difference in those rates. We must give everyone in our state an equal opportunity to stay healthy."



    The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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