What That Means For African Americans Part II
by Dr. Patricia McManus–President, Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin, Inc.
This July 5 is an important day for the citizens of Wisconsin. On that day, the public places in the state will improve the public health of many people.
For those who are not smokers, it will greatly decrease the amount of exposure to cancer producing bi-products in the environment.
For those who smoke, it will not restrict their ability to smoke, just where they can smoke.
So why was this policy issue so important to an organization such as the Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin, Inc. (BHCW)?
The mission of the BHCW is to improve the health of African Americans and other underserved populations in Wisconsin. Tobacco smoke causes such high levels of sickness, disability and death in African Americans. It had to be a priority.
Even with the legislation, it remains a priority. Smoking in homes, vehicles, too close to schools and daycares are still major concerns. What about day care workers who take their smoking break and come back to take care of your infant or young child?
As I mentioned last week there is now evidence of what is being called “third hand smoke.”
This means that the bi-products of tobacco smoke are on the clothing and can cause asthma for children and death for infants.
Many people in the mainstream community will take heed of this information and make appropriate adjustments for themselves and their families.
Others, especially in the African American community, will not. What is this about? What has the legacy of tobacco smoke created for us? There are several areas that we must be aware of if we are to make a difference.
1. The History of Tobacco – We have heard so much about how our ancestors picked cotton; little was said about the amount of tobacco that we harvested.
For a long time, tobacco was used to buy and sell slaves and also used by slaves to secure their freedom.
Some Blacks were able to start their own tobacco farms and Blacks still grow tobacco to this day. So tobacco was seen as good and bad for us.
That has never changed.
In Milwaukee, we may not have tobacco farms, but we have African Americans who own bars and tobacco shops.
These persons were the most upset with the possibility of this law passing. They deal death, but it is legal, it is business. They and some others do not see it as an issue, because they say, “It is sold to adults; they can make their own decisions.”
2. As the larger community became more aware of the issues with smoking, the tobacco companies had to find new markets. They did their research and discovered that to acknowledge African Americans and their uniqueness would be a good way to get them to be aware of their product.
They also began to sponsor the activities of Black organization and to give away free cigarettes at community events, i.e., “The Cool Jazz Festival.” Because of the way things work, especially in Milwaukee, White organizations are less likely to donate to Black organizations. They are much more comfortable giving the money to White organizations that provide services to the Black community.
3. While menthol cigarettes were not made just for African Americans, it became very clear to the tobacco companies that African Americans tended to prefer cigarettes with menthol.
Between 75 to 90% of African Americans who smoke, smoke menthol cigarettes.
African Americans smoke less than the larger community but because they tend to smoke menthol brands they are more at risk. When smoking, one tends to inhale longer because of the soothing sensation of the menthol.
There is also evidence that African Americans tend to keep the bi-products of smoking in their system longer. So we inhale more cancerous products of cigarettes and we take a longer time to get them out of our bodies.
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