By Kevin Reeder
Giving thanks is what Thanksgiving is all about. A family, a home, transportation, a job, food and good health are some of the many reasons people give thanks. During tough times, many Wisconsinites find themselves giving thanks in spite of life’s adversity— especially health related adversity. We all want good health and a life of wellness, and although ailments effect people from all walks of life, those living in poverty remain at higher risks for certain diseases.
Fortunately some diseases are preventable. Smoking related lung cancer is one of them. In fact, smoking remains the leading cause of preventable deaths, and lung cancer is a major factor. In Wisconsin, nearly 2,250 people die from smoking induced lung cancer; that accounts for 79 percent of all lung cancer deaths, according to the 2010 Burden of Tobacco in Wisconsin report.
Lung cancer is the deadliest form of cancer in both men and women in the United States, according to the American Lung Association, but to get a grip on this deadly disease, we must first address tobacco issues within our state.
Tobacco presents communities with a number of problems. First, tobacco is not an equal opportunity killer. Second, it costs our state both lives and money. And third, it puts future generations at risk.
Tobacco’s burden, or how it affects people, is not the same across different ethnic groups, ages and economic populations. Tobacco use has declined among the educated and affluent but not among low-income and low-literacy populations.
Those living in poverty use tobacco more often and have more exposure to secondhand smoke. They also lack access to prevention and treatment programs, resulting in lower quit rates and higher relapse rates.
Marketing plays a major role in related tobacco disparities. Tobacco companies heavily market to those living in urban and impoverished communities.
According to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, in the 2010 July/August issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion, a study compared the characteristics of storefront tobacco advertisements in a low-income, minority community with those of a high-income, nonminority community and found that the low-income, minority community had more tobacco retailers and advertisements were typically larger and more likely to promote menthol products.
These issues don’t just affect an isolated community; they affect the health of our state. With more than 915,000 smokers in Wisconsin, the deadly addiction costs our state $4.5 billion in healthcare cost and lost productivity each year. Even worse, 7,000 mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles and friends and colleagues die each year because of smoking related causes.
If we do not get a handle on tobacco’s burden on Wisconsinites, future generations are at risk of repeating cycles of addiction and poor health outcomes. An overwhelming majority of adult smokers began before age 18. And while our Tobacco Prevention and Control Program (TPCP) has made great progress in reducing youth smoking over the last 10 years, there is still much work to do.
Youth between 18 and 24 represent the fastest growing group of new smokers, and although it is illegal to sell cigarettes to minors, underage access and smoking remains a problem. In 2009, 16.9 percent of Wisconsin high school students surveyed through Youth Risk Behavioral Surveillance (YRBS) were smokers, according to Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
There is no overnight fix to the problems associated with tobacco. Our TPCP is working to address tobacco on all levels—including the disparities that exist. With continued funding and a community effort we can prevent the effects tobacco on Wisconsinites and those most vulnerable to addiction and disease.
This Thanksgiving, as we give thanks for everything we do have, let us not forget the work that is before us. Let’s remember the thousands of Wisconsinites who are currently battling smoking induced lung cancer and those who have gone before us (after all, it is Lung Cancer Awareness Month). Our community needs us to continuously work on their behalf, even during the holiday season.
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).