By Guest Blogger Janet Porter, MPH, Program Director, Break Free Alliance, Health Education Council
Smoking prevalence among people with disabilities is nearly 50 percent higher than among people without disabilities (29.9 percent versus 19.8 percent) according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tobacco use remains the number one preventable cause of death in the United States.
Disparities in smoking prevalence, in addition to barriers to the use of preventive services (such as traveling to a doctor′s appointment) put people with disabilities at risk for declining health. It is not clear as to why the smoking prevalence is higher among people with disabilities, but it should definitely be an area for further examination.Research confirms that people with disabilities are less likely than people without disabilities to receive preventive health care; and therefore, they have a higher risk of illness and disease. The 2005 Surgeon General′s Call to Improve the Health and Wellness of Persons with Disabilities indicated that the resulting higher health care expenditure costs and productivity losses for people with disabilities, which exceed $300 billion, can be understood as a result of too little attention to the other health needs of these individuals by health providers.
Quitting smoking is the most important step smokers can take to improve their overall health and reduce their risk for disease. Approximately 10 percent of smokers have a smoking-related chronic disease, primarily heart disease or emphysema. Smokers who quit will, on average, live longer and have fewer years living with a disability. It is vital that health care providers ask patients about their smoking behavior and advise them to quit!
It is also important to note that the tobacco industry spends millions of dollars each year marketing their deadly products to vulnerable populations. The industry has recently produced a number of new smokeless tobacco products that are designed to be used in locations where smoking is not allowed. These products keep people addicted and can also pose additional health risks. Don’t be fooled by the tobacco industry’s tactics – be aware of these products and their health risks. It is critical to educate children and young adults about their dangers! Also, support the adoption of tobacco-free policies in your community, workplace and schools.
Break Free Alliance, a national network funded by the Centers for Disease Control, Office on Smoking and Heath, has been working to educate policy makers, health care providers, social service workers and others about the burden of tobacco use in vulnerable and medically underserved populations. If you have an interest in helping with this important mission, please visit the Alliance at www.breakfreesupport.org.
Remember, quitting smoking is the best thing someone can do for their health! People with and without disabilities who smoke can call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) (TTY 1-800-332-8615) or visit www.smokefree.gov for quitting assistance.
Janet Porter has worked in tobacco prevention and education for the past 20 years and currently serves as the Program Director of Break Free Alliance, a national network that works to reduce tobacco use in populations of low socioeconomic status. She has authored numerous abstracts and publications related to tobacco policy and prevention approaches in the community-based setting and serves on numerous committees and workgroups to address tobacco use in specific populations. She completed her undergraduate degree in Health Science from California State University, Sacramento and obtained her Master’s Degree in Public Health from Loma Linda University, School of Public Health. She is also a Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES).