Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander (AANHPI) elected officials, community leaders and health advocates convened a press conference May 4 at the Miyako Hotel in Little Tokyo to urge voters to ignore ads funded by the tobacco industry and vote for Proposition 29, the California Cancer Research Act, in the June 5 election.
Advocates say Proposition 29, which calls for a new $1 tobacco tax, will save 104,000 lives; stop 228,000 kids from smoking; and generate approximately $735 million every year to support life-saving research and tobacco prevention programs.
According to the speakers at the press conference, more than 17 percent of all AANHPI adults smoke and approximately 15,000 to 20,000 AANHPIs will die every year because of tobacco-related illnesses.
“I represent the Assembly district with the largest population of AANHPIs in the state,” said Assemblymember Mike Eng (D-Alhambra). “Many of them face the specter of death because of tobacco smoke. California smoking rates are as high as 35.9 percent for Korean men, 32.3 percent for Pacific Islander men, and 24.2 percent for Pacific Islander women.
“That’s why I am here in support of Prop. 29. It will save lives and stop kids from smoking.”
Eng’s district includes El Monte, Monterey Park, Rosemead, San Gabriel and San Marino.
Eng, a former smoker, also spoke in memory of his father, who he said was addicted to cigarettes. “One day he came to me and said, ‘Mike, I want you to do something that I’ve never been able to do. I want you to quit.’ And I did, but he didn’t.”
“As an Asian American oncologist who lost his own father to cancer, I have been concerned with the overall increasing incidence of cancer in our community,” stated Dr. Paul Y. Song. “Asian Americans are the only ethnic group for whom cancer is the leading cause of death.
“At a time when Congress has begun to drastically reduce National Institute of Health funding for all health-care research, Prop. 29 will raise badly needed money to fill this gap while also helping to discourage people from smoking, which is still a leading cause of cancer.”
Henry Lo, a member of the Garvey School District Board of Education, noted, “The rate of increase in Asian American youth smoking is greater than that of any other ethnic group … Asian American smoking increases seven-fold from that transition from middle school to high school. That’s a concern to me … especially because my district has a student population that’s over 50 percent Asian American.”
He added that student performance is adversely affected not only by smoking but also exposure to second-hand smoke.
Mark Masaoka, policy director of the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council (AP3CON), pointed out that in the Asian American community, the rate of smoking is higher among immigrants. “The global tobacco industry began targeting the Asian countries after smoking began a long-term decline here in the United States,” he explained. “The World Health Organization reports that in countries like Korea and China, as many as 67 percent of the adult males smoke, and many of them bring these unfortunate habits with them when they come to the United States.
“Studies have shown that there are disproportionately high levels of tobacco advertising directed at the AAPI communities … Studies also show that these anti-smoking messages have not been reaching our immigrant communities.”
The campaign also announced the launch of an ethnic-specific website, http://californiansforacure.org/asianamerican, which includes links to information in Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese.
Also in attendance were Dr. Edward Wu; Karen Park and Ling Wu, American Cancer Society AAPI Team; Pari Sabado, UCLA Asian American Network for Cancer Awareness, Research and Training; and a representative from the Los Angeles Chinese Chamber of Commerce, among others.