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Asian Health Initiative

Klemens Meyer, MD, Director of Dialysis Services, attends patient as he receives dialysis treatment at the outpatient clinic at Tufts Medical Center.

Our background and history

Boston is home to over 63,000 Asian residents, representing 9.5% of the city’s population, and constituting one of the fastest-growing groups in the city. Asian immigrants tend to underutilize healthcare services, and often lack the information, time, or resources necessary to practice preventive health maintenance. This can be attributed in part to cultural differences and linguistic barriers, as well as financial concerns, such as lack of health insurance.

In response to the health needs of Boston’s Asian community, Tufts Medical Center, in consultation with the South Cove/Chinatown Neighborhood Council, established the Asian Health Initiative (AHI) and its advisory committee in 1995. 

The AHI identifies public health issues of particular prevalence or concern to the local Asian community. It seeks to work collaboratively with community-based organizations to help address those health issues in a culturally and linguistically appropriate setting.

Since its inception, funded programs and projects have addressed tuberculosis, hypertension, hepatitis B, chronic disease prevention, domestic and family violence, smoking cessation and prevention, the importance of primary care and understanding the American healthcare system, among other health issues. Because of the diversity of the programs and organizations supported, the AHI has been able to reach a broad segment of the Asian community.

The need to address health issues in the Asian community

As of 2015, the Asian/Pacific Islander community is the fastest-growing group nationally. It comprises 5.8% of the total population nationally, 5.3% of the total population in Massachusetts, and 9.5% in Boston.


Based on findings from Tufts MC’s 2019 Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA), the AHI Community Advisory Committee recommended tobacco and nicotine use, and the behavioral health challenges that contribute to it, as health priorities in the Chinatown community. 

This concern was raised by key informants and focus groups that contributed to the 2019 CHNA. Heart disease and lung cancer have remained the top causes of death in Chinatown for more than a decade, and smoking is a significant risk factor for both conditions. Secondhand smoke impacts non-smokers as well, particularly children, leading to high pediatric asthma rates in Chinatown.

Chronic stress stemming from poverty, social isolation, immigration status and family and social expectations make youth more amenable to using tobacco and nicotine and adult smokers less likely to quit. As a result, current AHI-funded programs are addressing the challenging issue of tobacco and nicotine use prevention and cessation in a number of ways.


AHI-funded programs

The Asian American Civic Association (AACA) is developing an evidence-informed, anti-smoking mass media campaign by compiling, customizing and translating existing graphic and compelling tobacco- and nicotine-related content adapted from effective past national mass media campaigns. New content is being created to cater to Boston’s Chinatown community more specifically. AACA leverages its property manager, local business owner and community organization networks to promote smoke-free areas throughout Chinatown.

Boston Asian: Youth Essential Service (BAYES) engages youth through a variety of activities about the risks of using tobacco and nicotine, its negative impacts on physical and mental health, marketing strategies used by the tobacco industry and tips to live free of tobacco- and nicotine. Youth develop and implement a public health education campaign about the dangers of tobacco and nicotine that reaches hundreds of community members annually. They also identify, create and publish new tobacco- and nicotine-related content that resonates with Asian American youth.

The Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center (BCNC), through its Smoke-Free Chinatown Initiative, aims to mitigate the negative impacts of tobacco use and smoking among Chinese families in Chinatown and Boston. BCNC engages children, youth, parents and other adults in tobacco education through arts programs, parenting classes and other workshop presentations. BCNC disseminates information through newsletters and other methods to build community awareness of the health hazards of smoking and tobacco products, secondhand smoke and resources for smoking cessation. BCNC’s Family Services team also provides individualized case management and counseling to current smokers to support their cessation journey.

The Greater Boston Chinese Golden Age Center (GBCGAC), through its Smoke-Free for Healthy Living program, promotes the prevention and cessation of tobacco and nicotine use among Chinese adults. The program empowers smokers via outreach events and educational workshops to lead healthier lives by reducing and stopping smoking. GBCGAC also assesses smokers’ health and behavioral needs, creates individualized smoking cessation/reduction plans and provides one-on-one support with family engagement and regular follow-up to support the quitting process. Smoke-Free for Healthy Living engages public and private housing developments to promote the program, recruit participants and help maintain a smoke-free environment for all residents.

Josiah Quincy Elementary School (JQS) provides a comprehensive tobacco prevention curriculum to all fourth and fifth graders, helping students learn about the health and economic impacts of smoking and vaping, including secondhand smoke, as well as techniques to protect themselves and their families from these impacts. JQS has partnered with the Josiah Quincy Upper School to deliver a similar curriculum to sixth and seventh graders, equipping them with knowledge and skills at a time when they may begin to experience peer pressure to try smoking or vaping. JQS is exploring innovative methods of engaging families to support students’ abstention from tobacco, and JQS will work with co-located service providers to promote a fully smoke-free environment on the school’s community campus.

Contact AHI

For more information, contact:

Sherry Dong, Senior Director
Community Benefits and Community Health Initiatives
Tufts Medical Center
800 Washington St., Box 116
Boston, MA 02111

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