By Kevin Reeder, MSW, CSWM
Everyday we rely on our brains—to remember information and experiences, to critically think and make judgments, to converse and to do a multitude of other things—so I’m sure most people would not want to lose their cognitive functioning. Sadly, a projected 110,000 Wisconsinites live with Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
Unfortunately, we can now add Alzheimer’s to the already extensive list of tobacco’s harmful effects. Smoking during middle age more than doubles the odds for developing Alzheimer’s, according to the recent study from Oakland- based Kaiser Permanente. The study examined the medical records of over 20,000 men and women from 1994 to 2008.
Results found that those who smoked two or more packs a day increased their risk of developing Alzheimer’s by 157 percent and raised their risk of developing vascular dementia (the second most common form of dementia caused by Alzheimer’s) by 172 percent. The findings were published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
African Americans are at a greater risk of developing this devastating disease. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, African Americans are about two-times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s than Caucasians.
Milwaukee has a serious problem—and that’s poverty. Research conducted in some of Milwaukee’s poorest neighborhoods shows just how much tobacco burden affects low socioeconomic communities, and the new Alzheimer’s study is further evidence of the need for state funding for tobacco prevention and control programs.
Although our annual tax collections from smokers are at an all-time high ($696 million from June 2009 to May 2010), less than one percent of that revenue is allocated to providing services to treat and prevent tobacco addition. States that have reduced tobacco control funding, such as Florida and Massachusetts, have had increased smoking rates; Wisconsin risks following that same path.
Since the 2009 budget cuts, Wisconsin has gone from 42 to 15 community-based tobacco prevention programs. That’s a huge problem. Without adequate funding, we could start seeing an increase in tobacco usage. Research shows that a fully funded tobacco control program is most effective in reducing the tobacco burden on Wisconsinites.
Wisconsin can’t afford to continue to under-fund the tobacco control and prevention programs. One out of four residents and one-third of African Americans smoke, costing the state two smoking related deaths per day and $4.5 billion in healthcare and lost productivity costs.
Smoking remains the number once cause of preventable death. It kills thousands of our communities’ parents and grandparents, sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles, friends and colleagues, and it is time for the community to fight back.
Fight back today. Fight by quitting your smoking habit or helping someone you know quit his or hers. Fight by volunteering with tobacco free coalitions like the Wisconsin Tobacco Prevention and Poverty Network (WTPPN). Fight by talking to local, state and federal lawmakers and writing to local newspapers about the impact of menthol in your community and the importance of funding to support our state’s tobacco prevention and control program.
For the health and wellness of our community, we must fight back to reduce the prevalence of tobacco use in our communities. If you or someone you know is ready to become smoke-free, attend the November 15th event hosted by the Salvation Army’s Zip Code Project. For more information, call the Salvation Army at 414.302.4300 ext. 2176.
Kevin Reeder is the divisional social services director for the Salvation Army. Through the Salvation Army, he is implementing the Wisconsin Tobacco Prevention and Poverty Network (WTPPN).