Trying to Change a Cultural Habit

The policies put in place in New York City have curbed the smoking habits of many of its citizens over the past several years.  It started in 2002 when Mayor Bloomberg and the City Council banned smoking in offices, bars and restaurants.  They increased tobacco taxes making a pack of cigarettes cost as much as $13.00 a pack, and cracked down on illegal cigarette sales.  And a media campaign with graphic images of the hazards of smoking is seen every where.  The smoking rate dropped from 22 percent at the start of the campaign to a record low of 14 percent in 2011.   Almost every demographic has seen a decrease in smoking, but for Asian New Yorkers, the numbers remain unchanged.

On Thursday, the Bureau of Chronic Disease Prevention and Tobacco Control introduced their ads in Chinese to offer nicotine gum and patches to their Asian citizens.  They will also have Chinese speakers for those who call to enroll in the program.  The same attention will be given to the 25 percent of the New York City Russian community who continue to smoke.

According to the World Health Organization, about 70 percent of men in both Korea and China smoke, so it is difficult to change the lifestyle of Asians living in the U.S. when it is part of their culture.  Although the number of male Asian smokers is New York is far below those in their homeland, their statistical numbers have not dropped from 2002, which is roughly 17 percent.  Asian women smokers account for about 5 percent in New York City, but that number may be rising as young Asian-American girls view smoking as hip.

Changing the habit of the culture will be difficult when gifts of cigarettes at holiday times are the norm as is lighting up at a business dinner.  Some believe change can occur by teaching the children about the dangers of smoking and having them take that message home.   Although children are getting that message, passing it along in a culture which respects its elders would be considered disrespectful.

In a culture where it is disrespectful to tell the older generation what to do, and the younger generation looks at smoking as hip, it will be interesting to see what the numbers play out in the years ahead.

The Florida Statewide Tobacco Prevention Course provides a section on tobacco use in various cultures.  This free online course is available 24/7 for teachers and guidance counselors who hold a current Florida DOE certificate.  Your district may award up to 60 in-service points toward recertification upon completion of a pre- and post-survey and the teaching of six (6) lessons to students.  Teachers in both public and private schools in the State of Florida are eligible to take this course.  Check out our website at:

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