By Mrinal Gokhale
We have been taught that smoking is harmful for health since childhood, but Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), makes it clear just how harmful tobacco can be.
According to the Wisconsin African American Tobacco Prevention Network (WAATPN), Wisconsin has a five to six percent COPD prevalence rate, falling into the third quartile in the country. Milwaukee has the highest concentration of minorities, elderly individuals and low-income families in Wisconsin, accounting for most COPD cases in the state.
Dr. Dorian James of the Pulmedix Asthma Care Center is a member of the WAATPN, possessing a wealth of knowledge on COPD.
“COPD is caused either by chronic bronchitis, emphysema or asthma. Smoking usually causes chronic bronchitis and emphysema, or it accelerates asthma and turns into COPD,” James said. “A person can have either condition alone or in some combination of the various diseases.”
Although smoking doesn’t always cause COPD, onset for smokers usually occurs between ages 50 to 60. COPD can also be inherited, with symptoms starting in childhood.
Common COPD symptoms include shortness of breath, constant coughing and wheezing. In addition to smoking, prolonged exposure to contaminants, toxins and air pollution can increase one’s risk of developing COPD.
Even more alarming, secondhand smoke can cause COPD at the same rate as smokers, said Dr. James.
“The key to diagnosing and treating COPD is a pulmonary function testing, high resolution CAT scan, or chest x-ray,” said Dr. James. Although there are no known COPD cures, treatment varies on the severity of the condition, as there are four stages of COPD.
Dr. James also stated that there is a direct correlation between education, smoking and COPD.
“There is a lower prevalence of smoking in populations with college education.
Smoking also is correlated to income level as is poor asthma management, with a greater proportion of smokers being low income and typically minority,” James said.
Each COPD stage has a different treatment regimen and those who detect the condition early are better off. However, Dr. James said quitting smoking and avoiding secondhand smoke are the most important steps to take. He additionally suggested to exercise three or four times per week and implementing a healthy diet.
“Dietary changes only impact the more moderate to severe forms of COPD when vitamins, minerals, fluid intake and digestive capacity become a part of the management plan,” James said. Tobacco products are heavily marketed towards low-income neighborhoods.
That is why the WAATPN is conducting several presentations in November, focusing on local smokefree multi-unit housing efforts, other tobacco products, secondhand smoke exposure and COPD, according to WAATPN program coordinator Tarvus Hawthorne.
“We are continuously working with community stakeholders and residents to create more awareness about the link between tobacco use/exposure and COPD,” Hawthorne said. “This message takes on an added urgency as we consider the high smoking and exposure rates for African Americans in Wisconsin.”