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Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month: Embracing differences builds tobacco-free legacies

The theme for Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month 2016 – “walk together, embrace differences, build legacies” – provides an important framework when considering the fight to end tobacco use. 

An estimated 20.3 million Americans are of Asian descent, and 1.5 million Americans are of Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander descent. More than 80 languages are spoken in Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander households.  

Those differences matter when it comes to measuring and preventing tobacco use.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 9.5 percent of Asian Americans smoke, the lowest rate of smoking for any racial or ethnic group. This does not include Native Hawaiians or other Pacific Islanders.

That number does not tell the whole story.

Even within the broader community of Asian Americans, a pronounced gender breakdown exists: 20.6 percent of Asian American men smoke, compared to only 6.1 percent of Asian American women, according to the CDC.

Smoking rates also vary significantly based on cultural distinctions between Asian immigrant subgroups. For example, Asian Americans from countries in South East Asia, including Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, use tobacco at significantly higher rates.

At one end of the spectrum, 8.8 percent of Chinese Americans smoke cigarettes; at the other end of the spectrum, 26.6 percent of Korean Americans smoke cigarettes.