UK is seeing a rise in Asians smoking and using chewable tobacco products. How problematic is this for the community?
Bollywood films with lead actors smoking do influence...
Smoking and the use of chew tobacco in the South Asian community, is on the rise, especially in the UK. Is it now considered to be more trendy to smoke amongst British Asians?
Smoking rates among some parts of the community is significantly higher than the general UK population. For example, 40 per cent of Bangladeshi men smoke and 16 per cent of Bangladeshi women chew tobacco. Smoking is more common in Bangladeshi men than in any other ethnic group in the UK.
These extra high uses of tobacco products makes British Asians much more vulnerable to illness and death as a result of their tobacco use.
Another growing trend is the use of hookahs with bars and cafes especially providing hookah smoking facilities.
The sheesha (as the tobacco is sometimes called) typically consists of whole-leaf tobacco which has been dried, soaked, crumbled and then scented. The bowl of the hookah pipe is then packed with the moist product and fired by smouldering charcoal or coals.
Hookah smokers may feel that the hookah is a safe alternative to smoking cigarettes but doctors take a dim view of this. Whereas smoking a cigarette lasts around five minutes, a full-on hookah experience can last over half an hour.
Over the past few years or so it has become evident that more and more young women from the British Asian community, are taking up smoking.
From the time the ban on smoking in public and work places has been introduced, this trend has become more visible due to smokers standing outside offices and social establishments smoking, of which on average there is at least one Asian female smoking.
Smoking was seen as a disrespectful and shameful habit amongst South Asian females in past times but has now become a common part of young social culture, especially in the UK.
Does this rise in smoking amongst Asian women demonstrate the liberalism of South Asian communities now living in the UK or is it a mere show of rebellion amongst the new generations of British Asians, especially, girls wanting to flout their independence by using smoking as a symbol.
Other questions raised by this change in British Asian society is what has led Asian women to take up smoking, which as applicable to anyone, is a major health risk. Is it peer pressure, social acceptance, expression of individual rights or even low-self esteem that has led to this increase?
In a study, published in the British Medical Journal, researchers found Bangladeshi and Pakistani men view smoking as a normal part of being a man – an idea reinforced by Bollywood films, culture and social norms.
A study by Newcastle University concluded that Bollywood films with lead actors smoking do influence UK’s South Asians to smoke. Similar to the Hollywood films of the forties and fifties.
With British Asians seen a higher risk group to heart disease, it is likely that the smoking trend will contribute to health risks for the future generations.
For help with smoking and tobacco use you can contact:
The NHS Asian Tobacco Helpline (open Tuesdays 1-9pm with messages taken at other times) provides a dedicated, confidential and free advice service on how to give up smoking cigarettes, ‘bidi’ or the hookah as well as chewing tobacco and tobacco in paan. The phone numbers are 0800 169 0 881 (Urdu), 0800 169 0 882 (Punjabi), 0800 169 0 883 (Hindi), 0800 169 0 884 (Gujarati), 0800 169 0 885 (Bengali).
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