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Smoking Deaths Statistics Should Get Your Attention

By Terrance Afer-Anderson

Here’s an alarming statistic that should get your attention. Imagine 3 jumbo jet airliners, each carrying 438 passengers, crashing every day for a year, with no survivors. That’s how many people die from smoking-related illnesses each year, in the U.S. alone.

In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the CDC, reports that cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable American disease and death, accounting for more than 480,000 deaths every year. That’s 1,300 deaths every day and 1 of every 5 annually. But the key word here is preventable.

Despite those stunning statistics, people still smoke and the impact among African-Americans is particularly devastating. The CDC reports that 29.8 percent of African-American adults smoke and that tobacco use is a major contributor to the 3 leading causes of death among Black Americans: heart disease, cancer and stroke. Further, of the 23,000 new cases of lung cancer expected in 2011, 70 percent or 16,000 new cases were expected to occur in African-Americans. Additionally, the lung cancer death rate among Black men was 23 percent higher than that of white men. It is also worth noting that an estimated 1.6 million African-Americans under age 18 will become regular smokers, including 500,000 who will eventually die from smoking.

And what of Virginia? The CDC notes that, in assessing the prevalence of smoking across the U.S., Virginia ranked 23rd among the states. Some 160,000 African-Americans in Virginia smoke. It is also worth noting that, while only 12.9 percent of Virginians with incomes of $50,000 or more smoke, 38.9 percent of residents with incomes less than $15,000 are current smokers. Also noteworthy is that the state’s non-Hispanic Blacks die from smoking-related heart disease, lung and bronchus cancer at greater rates than non-Hispanic whites.

Virginia’s smoking statistics are above national averages, but reflect the incidence of smoking across the country, to include exposure to secondhand smoke. Those rates too are considerably higher amongst African-Americans. Black American children and adults are more likely to be exposed to secondhand smoke than any other racial or ethnic group.

To illustrate, the CDC reports that, between 2011 and 2012, 67.9 percent of African-American children, aged 3 to 11, and 54.6 percent of adolescents aged 12 to 19 years, were exposed to secondhand smoke, while 39.6 percent of Black adults aged 20 years and older were exposed. It should also be noted that there are some 7,000 chemicals found in cigarette smoke, most of them potentially hazardous and about 70 can cause cancer.

But the good news is that most African-American adult cigarette smokers, some 70 percent, genuinely want to quit. Many have tried. In fact, among current African-American daily smokers, aged 18 years and older, 74.1 percent report that they want to quit and 49.3 percent report having attempted to do so.

The benefits of quitting cannot be ignored. Here is a smoking cessation timeline that smokers, who want to quit, should find encouraging and a compelling incentive. After 20 minutes of stopping, the heart rate drops. After 12 hours, the carbon monoxide level in the blood drops to within normal limits. After 2 weeks to 3 months, circulation improves and lung function increases. After 1 to 9 months, coughing and shortness of breath decrease. After 1 year, excess risk of having coronary heart disease is cut in half. After 5 years, the stroke risk is reduced to that of a former smoker who stopped for 5 to 15 years. After 10 years, the lung cancer death rate is half that of a continuing smoker. The risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, bladder and pancreas decreases. After 15 years, the risk of coronary heart disease is that of a nonsmoker.

If you are a smoker who is motivated to stop, Boy … does the Virginia Department of Health have an opportunity for you! It is called Quit Now Virginia.

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Quit Now Virginia is a smoking cessation and counseling program that has helped thousands of people throughout the state successfully stop smoking. And you don’t have to attend any meetings! All you need is your phone. If you also have access to a personal computer, it will enhance your experience.

Enrollment in Quit Now Virginia is free. They will help you create an easy-to-follow quit plan, help you decide what type, dose and duration of quitting aid works best for you and provide guidance on how to use it. You’ll be also assigned a personal Quit Coach® whom you can access with a simple phone call, whenever you need it. You’ll also have access to Web Coach® allowing you to not alone connect with an online community of more than 25,000 other active members, but also track your progress and watch insightful, helpful videos.

Additionally, if you have a cellphone, you can also participate in Text2Quit, a text message feature that allows you to connect with your Quit Coach®, interact with Web Coach®, provide guidance on using medications correctly, manage urges, and avoid relapses. You’ll also receive a free easy-to-use Quit Guide®, a workbook that will help you stick with your Quitting Plan.

If you smoke and want to avoid becoming an alarming statistic, check out Quit Now Virginia.

Call the Norfolk Department of Public Health at 757 683-8836 or call Quit Now Virginia at 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669). You can also visit them online at You can do it!

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