Where Asian-Americans Live Might Affect Whether They Smoke

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Does the neighborhood where you live play a role in whether you become a smoker? According to a new study, certain neighborhood traits might in fact have some influence.

The study in the May issue of the American Journal of Public Health looked at factors that affect smoking habits among Asian-Americans living in California. The researchers report that tobacco use is becoming a growing public health problem in the Asian community.

While local socioeconomic status did not affect smoking behavior, other community traits did. Men who thought their neighborhoods were more cohesive were less likely to smoke. For women, living in an Asian neighborhood enclave — at least 50 percent Asian — made them less likely to smoke.

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Lead author Namratha Kandula, M.D., an assistant professor of medicine at Northwestern University, and colleagues evaluated 3,875 Asian adults who participated in the 2003 California Health Interview Survey, a telephone survey of randomly selected households.

Asian-Americans included people of Chinese, Filipino, Korean, Vietnamese, Japanese and South Asian origin. Of these men, 22 percent were smokers, while 6 percent of Asian women smoked. This compares with the 19 percent of men and 16 percent women among whites who participated in the same CHIS.

“We did think that living in an Asian enclave would protect women against smoking because Asian women living in enclaves would be more likely to mirror the social and cultural norms of Asian countries, where smoking rates among women are very low,” Kandula said.

Neighborhood cohesiveness — for example, if neighbors were helpful, trusted and shared the same values — might influence smoking because the cohesion helps lower stress, he suggested.

“One of the more interesting findings of this study was the different effects of neighborhood characteristics by gender among Asian-Americans, and within that the differences in Asian subgroups,” said Tamara Dubowitz, an associate policy researcher at RAND. She said such findings “suggest that examining country of origin among immigrant populations is essential.”

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