By Amelie Ramirez, Dr. PH
U.S.A. — May 31 is World No Tobacco Day. It’s a perfect opportunity to reflect on the effects of smoking and the opportunities to quit smoking, especially among Latinos.
For every one person that dies from a tobacco-related cause, there are 20 more people who are suffering with at least one serious illness from smoking. Smoking increases your risk for certain cancers, heart attacks, strokes, cataracts and skin wrinkling. Smoking, which is linked to 95 percent of lung cancer cases, the No. 1 cancer killer of Hispanics nationally.
Studies have shown that there are health disparities among the Latino population that exacerbate these problems. In the nation, Hispanics tend to have less access to health care. They also have less income and less educational attainment, which are factors that increase risk of tobacco use. And Hispanics tend to be more prone to smoke at certain ages and/or be exposed to harmful secondhand smoke in workplaces.
For example, smoking is more commonplace among young Latino adults, who engage in “social” smoking–those who smoke primarily while socializing with others, such as at a restaurant or bar.
Because social smokers don’t consider themselves smokers, they’re less likely to try to quit and more likely to continue smoking as they age, placing them at greater risk for long-term addiction.
Social smoking also is dangerous for employees and other patrons exposed to secondhand smoke in workplaces.
A federal report shows that there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke, which contains respiratory irritants and 60 chemicals known or suspected to cause cancer. Secondhand smoke kills 53,000 non-smoking Americans a year.
Don’t be afraid to encourage your friends, family members or coworkers to quit smoking, or advocate for comprehensive smoke-free workplace policies in cities that don’t have it.
Studies show the cities that institute comprehensive smoke-free laws and ordinances reduce non-smokers’ exposure to secondhand smoke, reduce adult smokers’ average daily cigarette consumption and increase their quit attempts.
In Texas, (where many cities have passed smoke-free ordinances), polls show that 68% of people support prohibiting smoking in all indoor work and public places, including restaurants and bars, and about 75% believe that air quality has improved in locales with such ordinances.
If you smoke, just imagine some of the benefits you’d immediately achieve by quitting.
You’d have more money to spend. You’d have whiter teeth, fresher breath and fewer coughs. You’d build pride in friends and family members, and be a role model for others. You’d get energized and feel healthier. And you’d stop exposing others to harmful secondhand smoke while lowering your own risk of cancer, heart attacks, strokes and early death.
Just ask Vicente Escobedo, who shared his story at a new web site for Latino health, SaludToday. Vicente, an early 20s father of two daughters, is a resource specialist for a local fatherhood campaign, where he helps mentor young fathers to make healthy, strong families. Yet he realized his smoking wasn’t setting a good example for young fathers, or his own daughters.
He quit smoking after his daughter told him, “Daddy, you smell ugly – you smell like smoke.” He said “I have to take care of my family. I have to worry about myself in the future. Am I gonna be healthy enough to take care of them?” Now he spends extra money on his family, and he has more energy to run with his girls.
You can be like Vicente and quit, too. And you don’t have to do it alone.
Help exists. Talk to your doctor. Call the American Cancer Society’s bilingual toll-free quit line, 1-877-YES-QUIT (1-877-937-7848).
Make this World No Tobacco Day a day to remember.
Learn more about Dr. Ramirez
Amelie G. Ramirez, DrPH, is director of the Institute for Health Promotion Research at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.
She has established a new online forum for Latino health, called SaludToday and which is a blogBeat Partner of Latina Lista. At SaludToday.com, Latinos can share stories, watch videos and get information on quitting smoking, preventing cancer and more to taking positive steps to preserve their and their family’s health.