Wednesday, July 24, 2024

When it comes to smoking, saying ‘NO’ is the business

by Kimberly Bailey-Tureaud

Las Vegas Black Image Magazine recently sat down with Malcolm Ahlo, a health educator with the Southern Nevada Health District’s Tobacco Control Program, and Maria Azzarelli, who serves as tobacco control coordinator for all of Southern Nevada. Their simple, yet compelling message: It is imperative that everyone particularly African-Americans – stop smoking cigarettes.

Why is it so important for African-Americans to stop smoking cigarettes?
Ahlo: Everyone knows that smoking cigarettes is bad for your health.  Specifically, smoking cigarettes is the No. 1 cause of death among African-Americans – 45,000 deaths of African-Americans every year.  If you took all the African-American deaths caused by AIDS, diabetes, suicide, homicide and car accidents and added them all together, the number  still wouldn’t be as high as 45,000 a year. The African-American community needs to stop smoking cigarettes.

We are dying more than all the other races of people from smoking cigarettes?
Ahlo: Yes, at an alarming rate.  The African-American prevalence rate is 29.5 percent. To put it into perspective, the Caucasian population is at 20.6 percent.  African-Americans are almost 10 percent more, which is alarming.

Why do you think black people smoke cigarettes?
Ahlo: It is no coincidence that the African-American community has such a high cigarette smoking rate because the tobacco industry specifically targets black communities.  You will see more convenience stores in black communities selling cigarettes, and more tobacco advertisements promoting menthol products.

Do you think that stress caused by social economics has a relationship with the number of black people who smoke cigarettes?
Ahlo: Yes, it could be. On the flip side, if someone stops smoking, studies show that they will save $3,600 a year.

It has been reported that President Obama is a closet smoker.
Ahlo: Yes, he was a closet smoker, but recently there was the Great American Smoke Out, which is an event sponsored by the American Cancer Society. I think he announced that he is now smoke-free during that event. But he was a closet smoker, and that goes to show you how hard it is to stop smoking.

Smoking cigarettes is just as dangerous and addictive as taking cocaine or heroin?
Ahlo: Yes, it is the same thing.

If this is the case, why is it legal?
Ahlo: (Laughs) You are asking me? I am asking you the same thing. I think a lot of governments get a lot of tax money from the sale of tobacco and cigarettes. What a lot of people don’t realize is that the cost from the medical effects caused by smoking cigarettes, with Medicaid and Medicare, is so much more.

What about the comparison to marijuana?
Ahlo: There are different studies that say different things because there are different grains of marijuana. If we look at what is causing death, cigarettes are a direct cause of death.

So, smoking cigarettes will kill you and smoking marijuana will not?
Ahlo: Yes, that is correct. Here is another interesting thing: You know the popular hookahs that a lot of people are smoking these days at (Middle Eastern) restaurants and theme events?  These hookahs are more dangerous than smoking cigarettes, because it is flavored tobacco and has 36 times more tar than cigarettes. People think they are sexy, and a lot of young adults are smoking them- and that is not good.

What about the laws that pertain to smoking cigarettes in small businesses and taverns?
Azzarelli:  In 2006 we had a clean indoor air law passed, because of the will of the people who voted. It was a ballot initiative, and the majority of Nevadans who voted wanted the clean indoor air environments. But there were a few exceptions, and we are aware of those, such as stand-alone bars that did not serve food, strip clubs and tobacco retail stores. Nevertheless, everywhere else, including restaurants, was smoke-free. Now, there was a legislative session whereby special lobbyists worked to undo the will of the people, and now food is allowed to be brought into stand-alone bars, when it wasn’t allowed before. The result is that more people are being exposed to secondhand smoke. Which, once again, secondhand smoke can never be reduced, has no safe zone and no filtration system can protect people from its dangers. When people speak of our state now on a national level, they say, “Nevada’s clean indoor air law has been weakened.”

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