Smoking: 'Kids feel they're invincible'
Four of every 10 American Indian and Alaska native adults smoke, as do 28 percent of youths in those two groups together the highest rates for U.S. residents.
Among Asians, just 12 percent of Chinese adults use cigarettes, and only 5 percent of Japanese youths light up, accounting for the lowest rates among racial groups. Koreans smoke more than any other group in the Asian community. Among Hispanics, Cuban youths smoke the most but Cuban adults smoke the least.
And the decline in smoking among adults has been swifter for African-Americans than for whites, leading researchers to say it looks as if blacks are smoking less than whites for the first time.
Those are among the highlights of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's first study to break down smoking rates among 14 ethnic groups in the United States.
Previous studies have focused on the five main ethnic groups: whites, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and American Indians and Alaska natives.
The report, released last month, gets more specific with Asians and Hispanics, looking at: Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders; Chinese; Filipinos; Japanese; Asian Indians; Koreans; Vietnamese; Mexicans; Puerto Ricans; Central or South Americans; and Cubans. The study is based on surveys of U.S. residents from 1999 to 2001.
It's difficult to draw conclusions about smoking trends from the report, since it is the first to consider the specific ethnic groups, said Ralph Caraballo of the CDC, who conducted the study.
But smoking rates are higher for adults (18 and over) than youths (12 to 17) in all ethnic groups, Caraballo said. Smoking rates for most minority youths are significantly lower than for white youths, which may stem in part from strong family resistance to smoking among blacks, Asians and Hispanics, he said.
Cigarette use among adults who are black, Vietnamese and Puerto Rican is about as frequent as for whites. That may be because there aren't enough culturally appropriate anti-smoking messages, Caraballo said. And tobacco marketing has targeted minorities, he said.
American Indians routinely top lists of smoking rates, but their use of cigarettes is going down, Caraballo said. "It seems to be on the decline, but the decline seems to be slower than the other racial and ethnic groups. The social norms are hard to change."
Smoking rates are relatively low among Cuban adults, but the relatively high rate among Cuban youths is worrisome for Maddie Pimentel. She's a 37-year-old Cuban-American from Alpharetta who is a marketing manager for BellSouth.
"Maybe it's just that the older you get, the smarter you get," she said. "Kids feel they're invincible."
Pimentel doesn't smoke, but her brother does. Her father quit while still living in Cuba, and he no longer even smokes cigars, which many Cubans prefer. "He can't stand the smell of it anymore," she said. "He won't sit in the smoking section of restaurants."
Reductions in smoking rates among most ethnic groups are a positive sign, Caraballo said. But he's worried because many states are using their share of the $246 billion windfall from settlements of lawsuits against tobacco companies to balance budgets, not pay for anti-smoking programs.
"We don't know what the impact of losing that money is going to be," he said. "It may be for the worse."