Somali Tobacco Outreach and Research Initiative

Researchers study tobacco use in Somali community where 36 percent smoke cigarettes.

STORI Community event 2In a pilot project funded by the Office of Health Disparities Research, Arizona researchers have gathered baseline data on tobacco use in the Somali refugee community, with the ultimate goal of reducing tobacco-related health disparities.

A team led by Scott Leischow, Ph.D., has partnered with the Somali American United Council of Arizona (SAUC) to collect survey and focus group data from 200 Somali refugees on:

  • Tobacco use behaviors, perceptions and barriers to cessation
  • Health literacy, and health care access and use
  • Social networks for accessing information about health and tobacco use

Initial results show that 36 percent of the Somali people surveyed smoke cigarettes, compared with 17 percent of the general U.S. population. While 81 percent of Somali participants say they are ready to quit or interested in quitting, only 15 percent have sought help from a health care provider.

Researcher Janet Okamoto, Ph.D., reports that the data has also yielded information that will help shape future interventions to reduce smoking.

Janet Okamoto
Janet Okamoto, Ph.D.

For example, nearly half of participants report difficulty in understanding others because of language. And when health clinics have interpreters available, often Somali refugees do not know how to successfully access this help.

Only 38 percent of those surveyed say they have someone they can go to for advice about a health issue. But those who do not have such relationships tend to access the health care system more.

“We think this means those with less social support are forced to rely more on the system to get health information and advice,” says Dr. Okamoto. “What we don’t know yet, is whether people with more supportive health advice networks are not seeking information from health providers because the information they receive from their networks is sufficient or if there is something else going on.”

The research team will be sharing its results with the Somali refugee community for input on the next steps toward developing community-based interventions that help prevent and reduce tobacco use.

The project, entitled “Somali Tobacco Outreach & Research Initiative (STORI),” also sets the stage for future cross-Mayo collaboration to compare tobacco use interventions in different Somali communities, according to Okamoto.

“African refugee populations are already at high risk for disparate health outcomes, such as mental health problems due to past traumatic experiences. You add smoking on top of existing health conditions, and it’s a huge issue,” she says.

Read more about Mayo’s collaboration with the Somali community in Arizona: “Partnering with the Somali Community Through Research” by Research Program Coordinator Farhia Omar.

STORI research team with members from the SAUC and Mayo Clinic
STORI research team with members from the SAUC and Mayo Clinic

Mayo Researchers Who Address Health Disparities in Somali Populations

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