Culturally Specific Tobacco Use and South Asians in the United States: A Review of the Literature and Promising Strategies for Intervention

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Over the past two decades, the United States has attracted large South Asian populations, who have imported tobacco products previously unique to the native subcontinent. South Asian cigarette use prevalence is consistently lower than other U.S. Asian subgroups; however, most surveys fail to capture smokeless products accurately. In part because of the pervasive use of popular smokeless cultural products resulting in greater population attributable risk of oral malignancies, many countries outside the United States have developed surveillance systems to capture these products and implemented effective population-level or community-based intervention strategies. This minority population in the United States continues to be “at risk” of suffering from a disproportionate burden of diseases, which are plausibly linked to the use of these products. The primary focus of this article is to provide an exhaustive literature review of tobacco use patterns and existing tobacco control strategies among South Asians in the United States. Framed within the social ecological model, the article suggests that there needs to be more detailed assessment of cultural tobacco products, a concurrent increase in cultural competencies of health care providers and provision of cessation resources outside the clinical setting. At the policy level, future efforts should adequately regulate these products and oversight must include such products in efforts to reduce rates of use. Concurrently, community-based efforts are needed to change social norms related to perceived health benefit and lack of stigma. This will help ensure that appropriately framed messages around use rates and burden of disease are addressed through culturally valued institutions and leaders.

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