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Study Reveals Who Smokes in California

California's first detailed look at tobacco use by specific populations, released this week, found that Marines, Korean men, gays and transsexuals were more likely to smoke than other people, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.

The data, compiled by the state Department of Health Services working with other researchers, offered a striking counterpoint to an overall decrease in smoking throughout California, the newspaper reported.

More than one in four Korean men smoked, the study found, a rate 46 percent higher than for California men overall. Only half of California's Korean households were smoke-free, compared with about 77 percent of other California households.

Korean and Chinese women smoked at higher rates the longer they had lived in the United States -- and their chances of smoking also rose as their command of English improved. The opposite was true for Korean and Chinese men.

In general, the more education or the higher the military rank, the less likely a person was to light up, according to the study. Approximately 30 percent of the active duty military's junior enlisted men smoked, compared with 2 percent of senior officers. Smoking among the military as a whole was higher than average, and Marines had by far the highest tobacco use rate: nearly 27 percent.

The gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community reported smoking rates of 30.4 percent, nearly twice the 15.4 percent rate for the general population. Gay men smoked at twice the rate of other men among the California general population.

"The data for lesbian and bisexual women is even worse," said Larry Bye, vice president of the Field Research Corp., which assisted in the studies, overseen by the Department of Health Services. "Lesbian and bisexual women are smoking at almost three times the rate of women in general."

The state's study did not offer an explanation for those figures. But some activists have speculated that some gays turn to cigarettes as teenagers to deal with the stress of "coming out" and potential discrimination.

By contrast, Asian Indians had a considerably lower smoking rate -- 5.5 percent -- than the general population, explainable in large part because the average member of this community had a postgraduate degree, said Dr. William J. McCarthy, adjunct associate professor of public health at UCLA. "They're way below everybody else," McCarthy said.

However, second-generation Asian Indians -- particularly women -- appear to be smoking more than their parents, McCarthy said. Chinese Americans also reported a low tobacco use rate: about 7.7 percent.

According to researchers, activity duty personnel reported using tobacco products other than cigarettes -- such as pipes, cigars, snuff or chewing tobacco -- at 17.4 percent far higher than the 5.9 percent rate in the general population. Service members cited stress and "social situations" half of the time as reasons they started to smoke.

However, deployment away from home was not cited as a significant factor in promoting smoking. Sasser said there were probably several reasons Marines were the heaviest smokers.

Dr. Howard Backer, interim state public health officer for the Department of Health Services, said the studies -- which will be discussed today at a summit in Sacramento -- will help address ways to improve anti-smoking efforts. "It validates our need to continue our anti-tobacco programs," he said, "and our commitment to California's smoke-free future."
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