In the United States, cigarette smoking remains the leading preventable cause of death, but surprisingly, it is a health issue that continues to affect ethnic minorities at a disproportionate rate, including Filipinos.

Whether we look at smoking habits of Filipinos in Hawai‘i, on the mainland, or in the Philippines, it is clear that the impact of tobacco use among Filipinos has broad cultural reaches.

The first layer of examination begins in the Philippines, where more than 17 million kababayan smoke cigarettes daily, with males accounting for almost half of the smoking population along with 2.8 million adult females.

While it is true that smoking rates are decreasing globally, cigarettes (priced as little as one peso) are conveniently accessible at mom and pop sari-sari stores and through street vendors in traffic, enabling a habit that is much easier to adopt than it is to say no.

Unfortunately, the health effects of tobacco have no geographical boundaries, which continues to have negative consequences as Pinoys emigrate to different areas of the world, including Hawai‘i.

In Hawai‘i, the smoking prevalence ranks 8th lowest in the country at 14.1 percent. Despite this progress, there is a stark disparity within the Filipino community in Hawai‘i – the smoking prevalence among Filipino adult males is almost three times higher at 18.3 percent compared to 6.7 percent among Filipino adult females.

Further demonstrating tobacco’s influence, the Hawai‘i Department of Health (DOH) reports that in Hawai‘i’s public high schools, Filipino girls, as well as Filipino boys, smoke at a rate of 6.8 percent.

Quit Smoking Resources

During Minority Health Awareness and Disparities Month this April, we aim to raise awareness about health inequalities among minority communities, but it is equally important to raise awareness about the resources that will help contribute to healthier outcomes for our state.

According to a 2012 study published in the Journal Community of Health, Filipinos in Hawai‘i reported lesser knowledge of tobacco cessation methods and products, and less frequent usage of them than other ethnic groups. By this it is clear that when it comes to smoking, the first step to helping this community achieve health equity is to empower Filipino residents with the resources and knowledge they need to quit smoking, or to prevent tobacco use all together.

One such resource is the Hawai‘i Tobacco Quitline, a service offered by the DOH providing FREE phone-based or web-based coaching for all Hawai‘i residents.

Current smokers who are interested in quitting are encouraged to call 1-800-QUIT-NOW, or visit HawaiiQuitline.org to enroll in an online coaching program and learn about community quit-smoking programs.

In addition, MedQuest subscribers can get up to four weeks of FREE nicotine replacement therapy, such as gum, patches, or lozenges. Community quit smoking programs are available for those wanting an in-person individual or group counseling setting for their quitting. Check with the program to find out if they offer free or subsidized nicotine replacement therapies.

Originally published in the Fil-Am Courier (April 16, 2017)