By ROD LEW
OAKLAND, Calif. (June 12, 2013) — Quitting smoking was the hardest thing Charlie Chang had ever done in his life. Charlie, 58, who is a Taiwanese immigrant who now lives in Maryland, told us that he tried quitting many times, including using shock therapy, nicotine patches and gum and prescription medication.
He found the resolve to give up smoking in 2008, when his dentist told him that he had to quit if he was to have any chance of saving several of his teeth.
Charlie resolved to quit. His determination was supplemented by joining a quit-smoking support group at the Asian American Health Initiative. He hasn’t smoked since Nov. 7, 2008.
Many Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders (AAs and NHPIs) are like Charlie. They take up using tobacco to the detriment of their health. In addition, many do not successfully quit until a medical professional tells them that the situation is dire.
In May, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) launched a “Talk With Your Doctor” initiative. The CDC has partnered with five national physician associations (American Medical Association, American Academy of Family Physicians, American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Physicians, and American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists) to encourage health-care providers to talk to patients about tobacco use and quitting and to encourage patients to bring up the issue with their doctor.
Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death and disease, killing more than 1,200 Americans each day. Although most smokers know about the risks, it seems many continue on with their habit—only thinking of short-term gratification.
Our community is even more susceptible. Korean American men, as well as those of Filipino, Vietnamese, Cambodian and Lao descent, have some of the highest tobacco use rates in the country.
It also is harder for Asian Americans, the majority of whom are foreign-born, to avoid smoking because of the prevalence of smoking in Asia and the tobacco companies are responsible for luring them with their deadly products. They engage in “double targeting” by marketing cigarettes to Asians in their home Asian countries, and then they again target our community members when they immigrate to the United States.
Internal industry documents show that since at least the mid-1980s, American tobacco companies have specifically targeted Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. The tobacco industry views Asian Americans as a “potential gold mine” because of Asian countries’ high smoking rates, the high concentration of Asian Americans geographically and the high proportion of Asian retailers.
Unfortunately, the tobacco companies’ double targeting strategies have been successful. Many Asian American men continue smoking after they move to the United States. Women, who generally have low smoking rates in Asia, become more likely to smoke when they move to the U.S.
This is why the new “Talk With Your Doctor” initiative is so critical for our community. Many of us respect our health-care providers—doctors, dentists, pharmacists, etc.—and value their opinion. Their recommendation and encouragement can make the difference between life and death.
I am pleased that Charlie heeded his dentist’s recommendation, finding the inner resolve to quit. It is time that other health care providers proactively consider the effects of smoking on their patients’ health. I am convinced other smokers would follow in Charlie’s footsteps and quit smoking if their trusted medical professional would caution them against the very real danger of tobacco use.
As part of this campaign, the CDC is providing support for smokers, who can call 1-800-QUIT-NOW for free support or visit www.cdc.gov/tips.
For smokers who prefer help in Asian languages, the Asian Smokers’ Quitline (operated by the Moores Cancer Center at the University of California, San Diego) is a free, nationwide service that offers smokers or concerned family members self-help materials, one-on-one counseling and a free two-week starter kit of nicotine patches. Services are available in four languages: Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin) 1-800-838-8917; Korean, 1-800-556-5564; and Vietnamese, 1-800-778-8440. For more information, visit www.asiansmokersquitline.org
Rod Lew is executive director of Asian Pacific Partners for Empowerment, Advocacy and Leadership (APPEAL). Founded in 1994, APPEAL is a national organization working toward social justice and a tobacco-free Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander community.