Carolina in the Carolines: A Survey of Patterns and Meanings of Smoking on a Micronesian Island

Abstract

Tobacco use–especially smoking industrially manufactured cigarettes–kills nearly 5 million people annually and is the leading preventable cause of death worldwide. Tobacco is a widely used global commodity embedded in cultural meanings, and its consumption involves a set of learned, patterned social behaviors. Seemingly, then, tobacco offers a most appealing anthropological research topic, yet its study has been relatively ignored by medical anthropologists when compared to research on alcoholic beverages and illegal drugs. To help fill this gap, this article sketches the historical background of tobacco in Micronesia, presents the results of a cross-sectional smoking survey from Namoluk Atoll, and describes contemporary smoking patterns and locally understood symbolic associations of tobacco. Intersections among history, gender, local meanings, the health transition, and the transnational marketing of tobacco are addressed, and cigarette smoking is seen as part of a new syndemic of chronic diseases in Micronesia.