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Latino and Asian American college students' smoking

Institution: University of California, Riverside
Investigator(s): Michiko Otsuki, Ph.D.
Award Cycle: 2003 (Cycle 12) Grant #: 12DT-0157 Award: $59,500
Subject Area: Epidemiology
Award Type: Dissertation Awards

Initial Award Abstract
Cigarette smoking is a leading cause of preventable death and disease in the United States. The rates of smoking among college students have increased substantially. This may be attributable to recent rigorous tobacco marketing activities targeted at young adults who are at life transitions (e.g., beginning college) that provide opportunities for adopting smoking as a new lifestyle. Despite these trends, little is known about what influences smoking among college students, particularly for students of Latino and Asian American descent, two of the fastest growing portions of the California population.

Acculturation, processes by which immigrant individuals and their children adopt the values, language, and customs of the new country, is known as a risk factor for immigrants’ health behaviors such as smoking. Specifically, linguistic acculturation (increased English language use) is one significant facet of acculturation in the U.S. that may affect cigarette use due to associated changes in social interaction and comprehension of health communication. Thus, the proposed research seeks to identify the extent to which linguistic acculturation influences smoking-related environmental factors, perceptions of smoking, and cigarette use among Latino and Asian American college students. Specifically, we think that for both Latino and Asian American students, greater levels of linguistic acculturation will be related to increased exposure to pro-smoking messages in the popular media such as magazines and movies, and having a greater proportion of smokers in one’s peer network, both of which will influence their smoking-related perceptions (i.e., increased perceptions of benefits and rates of peer smoking, decreased perception of risks associated with smoking). In turn, the extent of these smoking-related perceptions will influence greater levels of cigarette smoking. It is also expected that for both Latino and Asian American students, women will be more profoundly influenced by exposure with pro-smoking messages in the media, having smokers in one’s peer network, and smoking-related perceptions on their cigarette smoking than are men. To test these possibilities, the study will first conduct content analyses of pro-smoking messages (such as appearance of smoking images of actors, actresses, models, and tobacco advertisements) in the popular magazines and movies. Second, we will administer surveys to 1,000 Latino and Asian American freshmen and sophomore undergraduates at an ethnically diverse University of California campus.

The project’s focus on (a) studying smoking among Latino and Asian college students, who are traditionally understudied populations in tobacco-related research, (b) roles of gender and ethnicity in understanding college smoking, and (c) environmental influences such as contact with pro-smoking messages in the media and presence of smokers in the peer network will facilitate our understanding of these issues. The findings from the proposed study will aid in the development of smoking prevention and cessation programs targeted at diverse college population in California, especially by suggesting the ways in which anti-smoking campaign can be effectively tailored for ethnicity and gender.