Asian Health Initiative

Our Background and History

Boston is home to over 26,000 Asian residents, representing 9% of the city’s population, and constituting one of the fast-growing groups in the city. Asian immigrants tend to underutilize health care 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 and seeks to work collaboratively with local 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, and the importance of primary care and understanding the American health care 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, from toddlers to senior citizens.

As of 2011, the Asian/Pacific Islander community is the fastest growing group nationally. It now comprises 5.8% of the total population nationally, 5.3% of the total population in Massachusetts, and 8.9% in the city of Boston. Within the state there is a high concentration in the Greater Boston area, especially in Quincy, Malden, Brookline, Cambridge and Newton. In addition, Lowell, Worcester, Fall River, and Springfield also have sizable and diverse Asian populations.

In 2012, 46.4% of Boston Asian and Pacific Island language-speaking households were considered linguistically isolated, or had no one within the household 14 years of age and older who spoke English only, or spoke English well. This can present a significant barrier  to health care services and education.

Health data for Boston’s Asian community suggests that while Asian residents enjoy a longer life expectancy (88.8 years vs. 79.9 years for Boston residents overall), they experience certain preventable diseases at higher rates than other communities, including lung cancer (42.1 cases per 100,000 Asian residents vs. 39.1 in Boston overall) and Hepatitis B (325.4 cases per 100,000 Asian residents vs. 57.9 in Boston overall).


The Boston Public Health Commission’s Health of Boston report identified lung cancer as the leading cause of death among Boston’s Asian population in 2012. Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer and can exacerbate many chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases.

Smoking is particularly prevalent in foreign-born Asian American men. According to a 2002 study by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, in Massachusetts, foreign born Asian American men were more than three times more likely to smoke than Asian Americans born in the US.

The 2017-2019 Asian Health Initiative funded programs will be addressing the challenging issue of smoking and its associated health risks. 

The Asian American Civic Association is disseminating health information through its Sampan Newspaper, publishing 24 bilingual health-focused editions for each year. The health columns will focus primarily on smoking, prevention, cessation and long-term effects. Sampan will also publish and distribute a bilingual smoking cessation help directory, which will list all available information and treatment centers for quitting smoking. Sampan is partnering with the Clean Up Chinatown Committee for additional outreach and awareness efforts in the community. 

The Boston Asian: Youth Essential Service is offering “Smoke-Free Healthy You & Me,” a youth-led anti-smoking prevention and education program aimed at raising awareness among community youth, residents and other community members of the health risks and serious illnesses caused by cigarette smoking and second-hand smoke. The program will engage twelve youth in a 10-week training that will cover tobacco and cigarette smoking facts and fiction, tobacco industry adverting tactics targeting youth and low-income people.  Youth will learn about addiction and why people start, and other relevant information.   An additional twenty youth will also be trained to plan and implement anti-smoking campaign activities. 

The Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center is offering the Smoke Free Chinatown program in an effort to directly engage members of the Chinatown community in educational activities on the health effects of smoking and smoking-cessation resources. The program will use a number of its existing programs and communication channels to disseminate smoking information to the children, youth, adults, and families who access services at the neighborhood center. The program offers a family-centered approach, engaging children and adults with age-appropriate activities including after-school education and family workshops.

The Greater Boston Chinese Golden Age Center is offering a Smoke-Free Living Program to provide workshops to 200 Chinese-American adults to help them understand the problems of tobacco usage and the negative effects on one’s health.  Those who attend the workshops will be able to introduce and refer other tobacco users to the program, especially those eager to quit smoking and adopt a healthier lifestyle. The workshops will provide intensive discussions and advice on smoking issues and health-related problems. A smoke-free health fair will be held at the end of the year in order to help facilitate the creation of a smoke-free environment for healthy living. 

Josiah Quincy Elementary School is implementing a comprehensive tobacco prevention program for its students. They will implement an evidence-based health education curriculum for approximately 900 students targeting 3rd, 4th and 5th grade students. Classes will be led by a full-time health educator and conducted throughout the school year.  The school is also addressing smoking within the home by inviting families to two Family Night events, which will offer smoking cessation resources and education.

The Rose Kennedy Greenway and the Asian American Civic Association are partnering to offer a culturally sensitive smoking cessation program that will tackle the problem of chronic smoking in the Mary Soo Hoo Park. The Asian American Civic Association will address the issue of widespread smoking addiction in Chinese Americans who use the park as a social gathering spot. An English, Cantonese and Mandarin-speaking Smoking Specialist will provide individual counseling in person and through a help phone line to smokers in the park. The specialist will also work with the Greenway to install bilingual signs as well as design and distribute educational materials to educate smokers about health risks and options they have to help quit smoking including medical aids. 

The Wang YMCA of Chinatown offered the MOYIN No-Smoke Program from 2016-2017, which targeted community members across a wide age range but with a special emphasis on Chinese male restaurant workers who had been identified as at-risk and in need of intervention assistance. The Wang YMCA used outreach and worksite visits to bring health education and information to workers in Chinatown and nearby suburban Chinese restaurants. The program also engaged families to provide education about 2nd and 3rd hand smoke that may be found in a smoker’s home, which impact the health of other family members, especially children.

For more information contact:

Sherry Dong, Director
Community Health Improvement Programs
Tufts Medical Center
800 Washington Street, Box 116
Boston, MA 02111