UK government launches anti-tobacco campaign for AsiansBMJ 2001; 323 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.323.7309.359/b (Published 18 August 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;323:359
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Re: Smoking Amongst South Asians in the United Kingdom
We read with great interest Helen Barratt’s article about the smoking
cessation campaign targeted towards the South Asian community (1), as we
are concerned that smoking is a growing public health problem among these
In Walsall we have conducted two health and lifestyle surveys (1995
and 2000) among our South Asian population who account for 8% of the total
Walsall population. We carried out questionnaire surveys with face to face
In 1995, we interviewed 1350 residents. In 2000 we interviewed 703 of
the original 1350 respondents. 10.6% of respondents said they smoked in
1995, while in 2000, 10.4% admitted to smoking.
In Walsall in 2000, 22.7% of men and 1.2 % of women say they smoke
compared to 24.4% and 1.0% respectively in 1995. The smoking prevalence
(2000) was higher in Bangladeshis (23%) compared to Indians (9%) and
Pakistanis (13%). In 1995, Bangladeshis still had the highest prevalence
at 24%. The Pakistani smoking prevalence was 15 % in 1995 while in Indians
it was lower at 8 %.
However, it is heartening to see that of the 78 smokers in 1995, 28
(36%) have now given up in 2000 and of the 619 non smokers in 1995, 593
(96%) still do not smoke.
We question whether the huge difference in prevalence between men and
women is indeed true. We have anecdotal reports from local professionals
that the number of girls smoking seems to be increasing. If this is so,
then the low prevalence reported in our survey could be due to an
unwillingness to admit this to an interviewer in the presence of other
family members. Focus group work in Walsall has also indicated that more
women are now smoking as well as chewing tobacco. There was also a
suggestion that unemployment and hence boredom predispose to smoking.
Beishon reports that broadcast media and the local press are popular
among the South Asian community for gaining health information.(2) The
focus group work found that the Eastern Eye (Asian) newspaper was widely
In our 2000 survey, when we asked respondents what would help them to
give up smoking, 23% said help and support from family and friends and
this was followed by 18% who said illness. Informing the whole community
about the health risks of smoking therefore seems sensible. This might
help family members to put pressure on smokers to quit. It might even
encourage smokers to quit for themselves for which there are many
initiatives available in the NHS.
The campaign co-sponsored by the Government and Channel East is
indeed an excellent effort and complementary to our work in Walsall, where
we are continuing our efforts at raising awareness and providing services
that support the needs of our local communities. We are aware of the
important role of primary care teams and hope that our joint efforts will
Dr Shalini Pooransingh
Specialist registrar in public health medicine
Dr Sam Ramaiah
Director of Public Health
Department of Public Health Medicine
Walsall Health Authority
27-31 Lichfield St
(1) Barratt H BMJ 2001;323:359.
(2) Beishon S Nazroo JY Coronary heart disease: Contrasting the health
beliefs and behaviours of South Asian communities. Health Education
Competing interests: No competing interests