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CDC: Smoking rates highest among Native Americans

American Indians and Alaska Natives have the highest rate of cigarette use in the nation, according to statistics released on Friday.

Current smoking among Native Americans surpassed all other racial and ethnic groups, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported. Rates were equally high for Native youth and adults during the years 1999 through 2001.

For Native youth ages 12-17, 29.5 percent reported cigarette use. This was more than twice the rate of smoking by Whites, nearly three times the rate among Hispanics, nearly four times the rate among African-Americans and nearly five times the rate among Asians.

For Native adults, the rate of smoking was even higher -- 40 percent. In contrast, cigarette use among Whites, African-Americans and Hispanics hovered around 30 percent while smoking among Asians was reported at 24.1 percent.

Led by Surgeon General Richard Carmona, government officials and researchers said the disparities can be attributed to several factors. Parental and community disapproval is high among African-American and Hispanic groups, they said.

"However ... current smoking prevalence is the result of complex interactions of multiple factors, including socioeconomic status, cultural characteristics, acculturation, stress, advertising, cigarette prices, parental and community disapproval, and abilities of local communities to mount effective tobacco-control initiatives," the group wrote in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, a publication of the CDC.

The data contained in the report was based on information from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Thousands of Americans participate in the survey every year, providing a snapshot of of tobacco, alcohol and ilicit drug use throughout the country.

Results from the past several years show that Indian Country is on top in almost every category. Among Native youth, tobacco and illicit drug use is particularly high.

The surveys also show that there has been little change in behaviors among American Indians and Alaska Natives. While tobacco use among all Americans has dropped over the years, the rates are stated for Natives.

To reverse the situation, government experts say "interventions are needed" to lower cigarette use among racial and ethnic groups with high rates. They say more education and tapping a community's strengths can help.

"Tobacco-control initiatives based on these practices can reduce disparities related to smoking prevalence, exposure to secondhand smoke, and the burden of smoking-related disease," Carmona and the others wrote.

The report was published 40 years after the very first Surgeon General's Report on Smoking and Health. The report led to widespread efforts to reduce cigarette usage, including a ban on tobacco advertising on broadcast media and development of better treatments.

According to the CDC, these and other efforts have resulted in a major drop in smoking in the past 40 years. "However, despite this progress, smoking remains the foremost preventable cause of death in the United States," the CDC says. "Each year approximately 440,000 persons die from illnesses attributed to smoking."

Get the Study:
Prevalence of Cigarette Use Among 14 Racial/Ethnic Populations --- United States, 1999--2001 | 40th Anniversary of the First Surgeon General's Report on Smoking and Health

Relevant Links:
Tobacco Control, Indian Health Service - http://www.ihs.gov/medicalprograms/epi/tobcco.asp