Study: Increased Risks for Black Smokers

A new study in the New England Journal of Medicine reveals some alarming trends among African-American smokers. The news comes just as the National Medical Association (NMA) begins a new campaign to "stomp out" smoking in black communities. Ed Gordon discusses the campaign with NMA head Dr. Sandra Gadson.

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ED GORDON, host:

From NPR News, this is NEWS AND NOTES. I'M Ed Gordon.

A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine finds that African Americans are 50% more likely to develop lung cancer from light or moderate smoking than are White and Latino smokers. And lung cancer isn't the only concern. Smoking can cause a number of chronic, even debilitating conditions including emphysema and heart disease.

That's why the National Medical Association is fighting smoking in the black community. The Association's president's Dr. Sandra Gadson joined me to discuss the stomping out smoking in the African American community campaign. She says the facts are her weapon of choice in the fight against smoking.

Ms. SANDRA GADSON (President, National Medical Association): Just as there was a tremendous campaign to get people to smoke and dollars spent on advertisements, then we have to do that same thing to educate people as to the perils of smoking. Because sometimes when individuals smoke, they don't realize the other things that are being caused. They know about lung cancer.

I think that's pretty well documented. But there's also cardiovascular disease. There's also strokes. And so it's just so important that we really educate our community as to the need to stop smoking and thus the stomping out smoking campaign. Once this campaign...

GORDON: Forgive the interruption and pick up on your point, but we should note that about 45,000 African Americans die from a preventable smoking related disease a year.

Ms. GADSON: Absolutely. And that is unnecessary death, if you will. So it is just imperative that we get the message out. But not only that, the message has to be that there are ways that an individual can stop smoking, that there is actually what's called N.R.T., which is nicotine replacement therapy, and that is in the form of smoking aids like Nicorette gum, Nicoderm, CQ Patch, and Commit Lozenges, which allows your body to reduce, gradually reduce, its craving for nicotine. And if we use those aids in combination with consulting our physician, and also going on the website of quit.com and blackplanet.com for support advice, then we can have a success rate.

It's actually been shown that there's a 15 to 30% success rate by using those treatments.

GORDON: Let me ask you this as it relates to the lifestyle of many African Americans in this country. When you think about the idea that disproportionately African Americans still suffer through stress related lifestyles, diet habits, drinking habits, smoking habits, how much can really be laid in the lap of the idea that we still have an inability to change the lifestyle that we know?

Ms. GADSON: Well, a lot can be laid at that. But it doesn't mean that we can't do it. We know that we have those issues, but it's just imperative that we start to say, you know, I can do something about this. With smoking, it doesn't relieve stress. Whatever the stress factor was, it's still there when you light that cigarette. It didn't go away. The cigarette didn't make it go away. So all you're really doing is adding another factor to the level of problems that you have.

So this is something that we can control in terms of smoking, and that's why it's so imperative. So even though our lifestyles sometimes makes it difficult, it's still a problem that can be solved if we really work hard at it.

GORDON: Let me ask you this. Why are we seeing and have seen over the last few years, an upturn in smoking, particularly amongst women. We should note that there are about 1.6 million African Americans who are now under the age of 18 who will become regular smokers on an annual basis. It seems as though there was a good stretch of years where young people did not see this as glamorous and the thing to do. But we're seeing the numbers creep up.

Ms. GADSON: Well, I think some of it is advertisement. I mean, they see the trappings, they see the magazines, the billboards that sort of say, well, you are an adult if you smoke, or you're polished, or you're hip, or you're that type of thing. So you have those modalities that people look at and they want to imitate that, or they think, well, I can look like this person if I smoke a cigarette, or I start smoking it. So they develop it from that point of view.

And you're right in terms of women, there is an upsurge, and part of that is that women are in more stressful situations than prior. They're in corporate America, they're in businesses. And so they've sort of gotten into those stress level situations that might create that issue of smoking.

GORDONG: What else can be done, has to be done, beyond the common sense approach which does not work for a lot of people on a lot of levels, including stopping smoking, quite frankly. What else can be done to really push the idea that you're messing with mortality. You're messing with the ability to further your life, the well-being of your family, all of these things. The common sense approach seems as though you'd turn away from it, but people have not been able to only utilize that.

Ms. GADSON: Mm-hmm. I think it's still continuing to educate the community. Because I think what tends to happen is if you look at it, many of our well known individuals have died from lung cancer. So it sort of sent up a red flag, uh-oh, this is what happened. And so I just think that education is the key. Because not only do you have the issue of lung cancer, look at getting the possibility of emphysema and being dependent on oxygen for the rest of your life, or have an obstructive lung disease and you can't walk a block without being short of breath.

So, I just can't over-emphasize the issue of education. That's why we have this stomping out smoking campaign, to educate the community, to make them start to question, to make them to look. Because, you see, one thing, many years ago, there were not these type of aids that were available. People either they went cold turkey, or they went to come counseling here or there, and those weren't very successful. It's actually been shown that with cold turkey, there's about a 7% success rate.

So, now we have better modalities, the products are better, they're not as awful tasting, if you will. And do it is easier with the modalities that are available now, in combination with consulting your physician and getting information from websites. That can actually make stomping out smoking a success.

Even if you have tried, maybe you've tried five or more times to quit, but it's never too late. Don't get discouraged and just try again.

GORDON: All right, doctor. Thank you so much. Good luck with the campaign. And we hope that this will inspire some people to put that lighter and cigarette down.

Ms. GADSON: I hope so.

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