The death and disease that tobacco products have inflicted on low-income communities are devastating. The use of tobacco is still the country’s leading cause of death and preventable disease. Knowing the dangers of tobacco use are especially important now, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has named smoking a risk factor for developing severe illness from COVID-19.

Big Tobacco, a name used to refer to the large global tobacco industry, and it’s exploitation of vulnerable populations has a long and documented history. Vulnerable populations targeted by the tobacco industry, including LGBTQ individuals, those with lower income, Black and Hispanic populations, women, youth, members of the military and those with mental health conditions, have always faced an unequal burden from tobacco-related diseases and death. Why is this? Because tobacco companies target vulnerable populations by increasing advertising at small corner stores, keeping the cost of tobacco lower than in other parts of the country and providing discounts on tobacco products at the cash registers.

In 2019, the five major tobacco manufacturers spent about $7.13 billion per year to advertise their products. Of that, $5.7 billion was spent to reduce the price of cigarettes to consumers. In addition, tobacco companies are experts at developing tobacco brands that appeal to certain populations including women and youth. This includes advertising cigarettes as “slims” or “light” and using brightly colored packaging and logos similar to candy to attract children.

The targeting of vulnerable populations has led to enormous and growing disparities in who smokes and who suffers from tobacco-related disease. Alarmingly, research reveals that the gap in life expectancy between those who make the most money and those who make the least has grown dramatically for both men and women. The richest American men live nearly 15 years longer than the poorest American men. For women, the richest Americans live 10 years longer than the poorest.

Researchers from Duke University and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have concluded that differences in smoking rates are a major cause of this gap in life expectancy. Specifically, researchers calculated that the disparity in smoking rates among the rich and poor account for a third of the gap in life expectancy between white men with college degrees and white men with only a high school education.

Because they smoke more, lower-income smokers disproportionately suffer from smoking-caused disease. In addition to causing chronic diseases such as stroke, heart disease and diabetes, smoking is a known cause of cancer of the lung, larynx, oral cavity, liver, colon and rectum, esophagus, bladder, pancreas, cervix, kidney, stomach and blood. Over 130,000 men and women die of smoking caused lung cancer each year. Smoking causes most cases of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis. The World Health Organization reports that every year 1.9 million people die from tobacco related heart disease. This is important as the 2021 Community Health Assessment continues to report that heart disease is the leading cause of death for Perry County residents. Additionally, lung cancer and colorectal cancer rank in the top four cancer diagnoses for our area.

The number of tobacco related deaths should help to clarify why tobacco companies target vulnerable people and perhaps the American Lung Association states the facts most clearly. “The tobacco companies need kids to start smoking to make up for the number of adults that die from tobacco related disease. Every day, 200 kids and teens who had previously been occasional cigarette smokers become regular daily cigarette smokers.” (lung.org)

Are you interested in learning more? Our Tobacco Use Cessation and Prevention Program (TUPC) suggests the following:

• If you are a tobacco user, call and request help from a Tobacco Treatment Specialist. We have four specialists at our office (740-342-5179), or you can call the free Ohio Tobacco Quitline at 1-800-784-8669

• Do some investigating on your own. Visit our local convenience stores and count the number of tobacco displays. Make sure to observe the windows before you go in and notice the colors of the tobacco packaging.

• Share what you learn on your social media. Contact your local elected officials. Educate your kids and your grandchildren. Refuse to let them be the next generation of adults addicted to tobacco.

• Visit the following websites for additional information. Https://truthinitiative.org, www.tobaccofreekids.org, lung.org, cdc.gov, who.int.

The Perry County Health Department is working to keep you safe where you live, work and play. Contact us at 740-342-5179, visit us at 409 Lincoln Park Drive, New Lexington, go to our webpage at Perrycountyhealth.info and follow us on Facebook.

Deborah Raney is the director of health education at the Perry County Health Department and is a weekly contributor to the Perry County Tribune.

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