By Ariele Vaccaro
Though it’s been half a century since the Surgeon General first released reports on the dangers of smoking cigarettes, the threat of tobacco-related illnesses hasn’t subsided.
According to Tristan Gross, African Americans are facing those illnesses more often than other races. Gross is program coordinator at the Wisconsin African American Tobacco Prevention Network (WAATPN).
He explained that, although cigarette smoking has declined among black youth, the smoking of cheaper alternatives has increased.
Cigarillo and small cigar consumption has increased.
In fact, 18.3 percent of African American adults currently smoke.
And it’s not by accident that products like these are more accessible to African American communities.
According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, research has shown that cigars and cigarillos are not only easier to obtain, but also more heavily advertised in predominantly African American neighborhoods.
Common misconceptions fuel electronic cigarette consumption. Some believe e-cigarettes to be a healthier alternative to cigarettes. In 2009, however, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a statement, noting that e-cigarettes contain carcinogens, including diethylene glycol, a component of antifreeze. Most contain nicotine.
So, despite their fruity flavors, they are a risk to health and a recipe for addiction.
Pointed marketing practices by tobacco companies are costing African Americans, men especially, a lot not only over shop counters, but in the form of medical bills.
Dr. Dorian James is a Milwaukee respiratory physician and a member of WAATPN.
He recently wrote a letter to Wisconsin’s Joint Committee on Finance (JFC), urging lawmakers to allocate funding to tobacco control programming.
According to Health First Wisconsin, the state is currently investing less than one dollar per person in the way of tobacco prevention.
“No one dies from smoking that first cigarette nor the second or the third, rather it is a long, tortuous journey marked by progressive declines in functionality and significant decreases in quality of life,” wrote James.
According to the physician, tobacco users place not only themselves but also their families at risk for a number of long-term illnesses.
Mothers who smoke can risk their child’s lung development. That’s hard news, especially when one in ten pregnant African American women report to have smoked during pregnancy.
“A smoking mother is a huge threat to her own child’s life,” said James.
Low birth weight, SIDS, and tendency for asthma are some of the risks associated with prenatal smoking.
To James, the addictive quality of tobacco products shows in a mother’s willingness to compromise her child’s quality of life to satisfy the craving.
“Tobacco products even overcome maternal instinct.”
Those who smoke throughout their lives face similar risks: emphysema, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
WAATPN members are doing what they can to spread awareness about these health threats.
“Prevention is the key,” said Gross.
Marques Hogans would agree. He’s a public health educator at the City of Milwaukee Men’s Health Centers.
He visits parents’ homes to teach them how to keep their children from smoking tobacco products.
“For tobacco to be as deadly as it is, it makes no sense for us to participate in it,” said Hogans.
He urges smokers to utilize the Wisconsin Tobacco Quit Line and cessation programs offered by their own primary care doctor.
May was smoking cessation month in Wisconsin.
The call to quit isn’t over for WAAPN and the city, however, both of which will continue to foster awareness, maintain support systems for “quitters”, and advocate for increased state funding to cessation programming.
To learn more, visit www.milwaukee.gov/health, or visit WAATPN’s Facebook page.