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HomeNewsArchivesV.I. Residents Lighting Up Least in U.S., Says CDC

V.I. Residents Lighting Up Least in U.S., Says CDC

The U.S. Virgin Islands has by far the lowest tobacco use rate of any U.S. state or territory, according to the latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. V.I. Health officials say that’s especially good news for the incidence of smoking-related diseases in the territory.
Last Friday, the CDC issued a report of 2009 cigarette and smokeless tobacco use among adults, based upon data compiled from its 2009 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, the CDC’s ongoing telephone-based nationwide health survey. West Virginia and Kentucky puffed their way to the top of the ashtray with 25.6 percent of adults smoking cigarettes. Among the territories, Guam wheezed its way to fourth place, with 24.1 percent of its adults smoking.
By contrast, only 6.4 percent of Virgin Islanders smoke cigarettes. Utah, where a majority of residents belong to the Church of Latter Day Saints—which specifically forbids tobacco use—comes in second with 9.8 percent. After that comes California with 12.9 percent—more than twice the territorial rate.
Smokeless tobacco use was highest in Wyoming (9.1 percent) and West Virginia (8.5 percent) and lowest in the U.S. Virgin Islands (0.8 percent) and California (1.3 percent). Again, the territory’s use rate is substantially lower than its nearest competitor.
Why are smoking and tobacco use rates so much better here than stateside?
“Smoking rates are low among Caribbean people across the region, and I would suspect it is just cultural,” said Dr. Eugene Tull, the V.I. Health Department’s head epidemiologist, on Monday. “It has not been adopted widely in this part of the world, and low rates have persisted for decades,” he said.
International data show measurable benefits from this tendency, Tull said.
“If you look at Afro-Caribbean people in places like England and … in the U.S., you find rates of heart disease that are relatively low, as compared to African-Americans, for example, with otherwise similar backgrounds, risk factors, predisposition to diabetes and so forth,” he said.
As the cultural explanation would suggest, smoking rates – and corresponding disease rates – vary widely by demographic groups in the territory.
“In the Virgin Islands, the highest rate of smoking is in the white, the Caucasian population, with a lower rate among those with Spanish origins and the lowest rate in the Afro-Caribbean population,” Tull said.
Hard data on lung cancer incidence is limited, but data on lung cancer mortality reflect those demographic variations, Tull said.
“White residents have twice the risk of dying from lung cancer as Afro-Caribbean residents,” he said.
From Tull’s perspective, the low smoking rate “really plays itself out … in lower rates of heart disease and lung cancer in the Afro-Caribbean population.”
Because that is the predominant demographic segment of the general population, it shows up strongly in the overall numbers, he said.

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