By Jaime Martinez
MINNEAPOLIS (Feb. 18. 2015) — This is a response to the report, “Minnesota celebrates low smoking rate but leaves communities behind,” printed on January 28, 2015.
We were very pleased to see the opinion piece highlighting commercial tobacco disparities among Minnesota’s diverse communities (“Minnesota celebrates low smoking rate but leaves communities behind,” January 28). As the organization that conducted the Minnesota Adult Tobacco Survey (MATS) along with Minnesota Department of Health, we were aware of the limitations of the data for examining rates of commercial tobacco use among minority populations. MATS is designed to determine smoking prevalence among the general population, and drawing conclusions about specific populations wasn’t possible given the wide net the researchers cast.
That is not to say that we feel the decrease in Minnesota’s overall smoking rate should overshadow the ongoing, disproportionate burden commercial tobacco puts on our state’s diverse communities. Previous research conducted by us and by our partners gives overwhelming evidence that communities of color and other populations are the very hardest hit by commercial tobacco’s harm.
Members of all diverse communities are target-marketed by cigarette companies. The commercial tobacco industry sponsors ethnic festivals, offers promotional items in many languages and advertises in specific publications. Smoking rates are higher than average among Vietnamese, Cambodian, Lao, African American and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) communities. Among American Indians in Minnesota, the smoking rate is 59 percent – four times the rate of the general population. Lung cancer, heart disease, diabetes, stroke and other tobacco-related diseases are leading causes of death in several of these populations.
At ClearWay Minnesota, we are working to address these disparities by training leaders from diverse communities to explore tobacco control ideas, by involving them in population-wide improvements through public policy action, by collaborating with tribes in their efforts to advance commercial tobacco-free policies in Indian Country, and by tailoring our advertising to reach specific communities. Other organizations are conducting other initiatives as well. But there is always more to be done.
We encourage the state and other funders to be aggressive in funding efforts to develop culturally specific projects aimed at reducing commercial tobacco use and improving health equity for all Minnesotans. We will continue to make this work a priority as well, and we thank the authors for bringing this important issue to the attention of the public.