CDC: Guam Still Puffs More Smoke Per Capita Than Any State In The Union

A Call For Clarity In The Midst Of A Blue Fog: Now More Than Ever, We Need The Lt. Gov’s Healthy Guam Initiative

[GUAM] – As far as Guam is concerned, the latest Centers For Disease Control report on smoking nationwide (1998-2007) tells the same old story — our island sparks up even more than “Light My Lucky” Kentucky, which leads all 50 states. At 31.1%, one in every three adults smokes on Guam, 11.3% higher the national average (see WebMD story on the CDC report). Coupled with other bad habits like poor diet, high alcohol consumption and lack of exercise, it isn’t hard to imagine why Guam also suffers from a high incidence of smoking-related illnesses such as heart disease, stroke and cancer.

Observing the progression in 2007, Lt. Governor Mike Cruz launched the Healthy Guam Initiative to reduce smoking and overconsumption and to encourage exercise and healthy family activity. Setting up and operating health screening examinations complete with body mass index monitoring and blood pressure tests at outreach events, encouraging a stressed out police department to start taking better care of itself, praising the progressive steps taken by community health centers, and disseminating key messages through a mass media program, the Healthy Guam Initiative got off to a rousing start — right in line with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Healthy People 2010 health promotion and disease-prevention plan to “increase quality and years of healthy life” and “eliminate health disparities”.

But while Healthy People 2010 still appears to be going strong nationwide and is an integral part of CDC’s smoking-cessation program, today the Lt. Governor’s Healthy Guam Initiative is chugging along a little more languidly. The once-robust effort has evidently mellowed in the tug and pull plaguing a cash-strapped, resource-bare local government that is often more focused on paying the bills than on fixing the leaks.

On April 2 of this year, Doris Crisostomo, who works with Lt. Governor Cruz on health policies, interviewed on Newstalk K57’s Big Show with host Travis Coffman to promote another HGI health fair/fitness fiesta/public screening. Other than that, the last few Healthy Guam Initiative news items that Guam News Factor has been able to retrieve are some Pacific News Center blurbs about the acquisition of heart defibrillators and police fitness training posted between June and July of last year. The Initiative is not a centerpiece of the Lt. Governor’s new website.

Like so many other socio-economic aspects of Guam’s workaday world in which the island finds itself adrift in the tidal forces of larger lands, it seems in this case that the unicorporatted U.S. Territory has bought into the idea that it is somehow caught between a mother country with a tractable plan to quit and a geographically closer Asia-Pacific world that is still smoking its lungs out.

A May 2002 United Nation’s World Health Organization (WHO) statistical report lists incidence of male smoking at 51% of men and 10% of women in Japan, 67% of men in China, and as many as 86% of men in rural Cambodia.

According to WHO’s report, high rates in Asia are attributable to many factors, including a lack of knowledge about health risks, hard-won social privilege, weak tobacco laws, heavy advertising by American tobacco concerns, accessibility to young people, and government involvement in the tobacco industry — such as the Japan Finance Ministry’s major stake in a multinational called Japan Tobacco.

Those who read between the lines will draw parallels to faintly similar conditions on Guam. But compared to its Asian brothers, Guam is most decisively ahead of the quitting curve. And we have even our Administration’s fits and starts to thank for that!

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