Lung Cancer Deaths, Suicides, among Chinese Cited by NYC Dept. of Health

NYC Health Commission Mary T. Bassett at center, with Jane Eng, President and CEO of Charles B. Wang Community Health Center at right (Photo via Sing Tao Daily)

The New York City Dept. of Health released the first set of data on the mortality of Chinese living in New York on June 28. The data shows the number of Chinese who died from lung cancer between 2000 to 2014 jumped 70%, compared to a 16.4% decease citywide during the same period. In addition, suicide is listed as one of the top ten causes of death among Chinese. The Health Department called on the Chinese language media to help spread the message against smoking, and the Chinese community to have a stronger anti-tobacco education campaign. The Health Department also provides counseling to people who try to quit in Chinese languages. The goal is to reduce the number of smokers in the city to 160,000 by 2020.

The Health Department compares Chinese in New York with New Yorkers of other ethnicities and people in other places in the U.S., and found cancer was the leading cause of fatalities among Chinese in 2014 while heart disease was for the rest of the city and the nation. That year, 33% of deaths among Chinese were due to cancer while deaths caused by cancer made up 25% of the total deaths in the city.

“We know that tobacco use is one of the leading causes of cancer in New York City and a significant driver of mortality in the Chinese community,” said Mary T. Bassett, commissioner of the Health Department. “This is why we are increasing targeted public education to ensure all New Yorkers can get the support and quit aides they need. We want every New Yorker to have opportunity to live a long and healthy life.” She said the Health Department hopes to stop the increase of deaths caused by lung cancer in the next decade.

Warren Chin, executive director of the Chinese American Medical Society, said 25.4% of Asian males in New York were smokers in 2015, the highest among all races and ethnicities in the city. “All of us, including doctors, hospitals, clinics, city agencies, community leaders and elected officials, need to work together to reduce the usage of tobacco in our community,” said Chin. “We need to provide educational information to community members to let them know that smoking harms their health, and to help them quit.”

When asked at the press conference on June 28 at the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center in Chinatown about how to avoid smuggled cigarettes sold in the community in cheap prices, Bassett said the minimum prices for cigarettes set by the authorities is a way to restrain the black market and help smokers to reduce tobacco consumption. But this is not within the jurisdiction of Department Health but the Department of Consumer Affairs.

As for the suicide problem, Mouchuan Chen, Medical Director of Mental Health Bridge Program at Charles B. Wang, said the harsh challenges of making a living for new immigrants possibly have caused many suicides in the Chinese community. Suicidal thoughts sometimes are elusive, and the waiting time to get an appointment with a counselor may be as long as two to three months. This could also have made things worse.

Bassett said language barriers could also have made it difficult for Chinese to seek counseling, quit aides and to relieve suicidal thoughts. That’s why the Health Department launched NYC Well in October to provide 24/7 counseling services via hotline, text or online chat to help New Yorkers deal with mental health or drugs and alcohol abuse issues. The services are in multiple languages including Chinese.

Jane Eng, President and CEO of Charles B. Wang, said the clinic aprovides smoking cessation programs in Chinese and free counseling for smokers. Fifty people have enrolled in the program. Luqi Chan, coordinator of medical services promotion and activities at Charles B. Wang, said Chinese smokers’ will to quit needs to be bolstered. It is hard for them to access information, so she encouraged the media to do more.

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