Smoking rates as high as almost 50 per cent among men in migrant communities are being targeted by NSW health authorities to help cut tobacco use.
Men from Middle Eastern and Asian backgrounds are ignoring government-funded anti-smoking campaigns and warnings about the health dangers related to tobacco, and are far more likely to smoke than Australian-born residents.
The smoking rate for the general NSW population is 14.7 per cent.
However, figures show that in the Fairfield City area almost half (47.7 per cent) of Vietnamese-speaking men are smokers. More than a third (36.5 per cent) of Arabic-speaking men in that part of Sydney's south-west smoke. About 40 per cent of Lebanese men and a third of Vietnamese men use tobacco in NSW.
The high rates mirror the rates in countries where the tobacco industry is stepping up its marketing to attract new smokers. Figures from the international Tobacco Atlas show smoking rates among men in China are at 50.4 per cent. More than 45 per cent of men in Lebanon use tobacco, and in Vietnam 40 per cent of men smoke.
The chief executive of the Cancer Institute NSW, David Currow, said any moves by big tobacco to push cigarettes in resource-poor countries have an effect on Australia.
''We are talking about the cultural norms of a country and, if people then make Australia home, then they will bring with them the culture of tobacco use,'' he said.
Professor Currow said big tobacco's push into the developing world, highlighted by The Sun-Herald last week, was ''one of the most calculatingly cynical moves that we could imagine''.
The Cancer Institute is spending $200,000 on six Anti-Tobacco Grants projects, in partnership with community organisations, to help people in migrant communities quit smoking. Much of the money is being directed to services for newly arrived refugees in western Sydney, Wollongong and Newcastle.
Professor Currow said high smoking rates were having a big health impact on many communities.
Thien Nguyen, a young Vietnamese smoker, said he knew it could affect his health, but he would not give it up. Smoking during a lunch break in Cabramatta with friend Kevin Chou, of Cambodian heritage, Mr Nguyen said he was too young to quit.
''I've got plenty of time,'' he said. ''I'm only 22 years old. I won't get sick for a long while yet.''
The smoking rate among men of Middle Eastern background is 40 per cent. A professor of public health at Sydney University Chris Rissel, who helped develop a tobacco quit program for Arabic-speaking smokers in south-western Sydney, said it had had some success.