updated 1/29/2004 6:35:18 PM ET 2004-01-29T23:35:18

American Indians and Alaska natives are more likely to smoke than any other group in the United States, with 40 percent of adults defined as smokers, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday.

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People of Chinese descent were the least likely to smoke, with just 12 percent admitting to having smoked a cigarette in the past month, the CDC survey showed.

The survey of 74,000 youths aged 12 to 17 and 133,000 adults is the CDC’s first detailed statistical breakdown by ethnicity of who smokes and who does not, said CDC spokesman Joel London.

“This gives us a good snapshot of some information that we and other tobacco control communities have been looking for,” London said in a telephone interview.

Gap between blacks and whites decreasing
“It did confirm something that we seen in other surveys and that is the gap between blacks and whites has decreased significantly,” he added.

Among adults, 25 percent of blacks said they were smokers, compared to nearly 26 percent of whites and 26.5 percent of the population overall. Among youths, 16 percent of whites and just 7 percent of blacks admitted to smoking, compared to 13.8 percent overall.

“That’s a good thing,” London said. In the past, U.S. blacks have been much more likely than whites to smoke.

He said perhaps anti-smoking messages aimed at black communities could now be aimed at Native Americans and other groups.

The report, published in the CDC’s weekly report on sickness and death in the United States, noted that smoking  ”remains the foremost preventable cause of death in the United States. Each year approximately 440,000 persons die from illnesses attributed to smoking,” it reads.

This is despite nationwide moves such as a ban on tobacco ads on radio and television, the development of treatments to help people kick the habit, and statewide efforts such as prohibiting smoking in public places. 

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