Black doctors see devastating impact of tobacco advertising

— More than 15-years ago, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the nation’s major cigarette manufacturers for their gross misrepresentation of the hazards of smoking to the public. Finally, after years of wrangling and continued resistance, the Justice Department and the Tobacco-Free Kids Action Fund reached an agreement with the four major tobacco companies.

Part of this settlement requires these tobacco companies to spend up to $45 million placing “apology” or “corrective” ads in the media; primarily with television and radio networks and stations, newspapers and magazines. This is a gesture meant to make amends for the countless millions of lives that have been either lost or harmed beyond repair due to the consumption of tobacco products. Still, nearly a half million people will die from smoking-related diseases just in this year alone.

Unfortunately, the “apology ad” gesture forced upon the tobacco companies does not appear to be designed to offer any sort of “apology” to the African American community. Not one African American newspaper, radio station, television station or magazine has been included in the $45 million ad campaign, even though many of these same outlets were used to aggressively influence African American smokers. As the “front line” for healthcare in the African American community, members of the National Medical Association find this oversight to be an egregious error that needs to be corrected.

Without question, African Americans make up a significant number of those who are suffering from the pain and death caused by smoking. A recent report published by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention shows that 25 percent of African American males over the age of 18 currently smoke cigarettes and 17 percent of African American women over the age of 18 smoke.

According to the most recent report issued by the U.S. Surgeon General, these individuals who smoke expose themselves to more than 7,000 chemicals and compounds; hundreds are toxic and at least 69 are known to cause cancer. Nearly one-third of all cancer deaths each year are directly linked to smoking. Smoking causes about 85 percent of all lung cancers in the U.S.

In addition, exposure to tobacco smoke quickly damages blood vessels throughout the body and makes the blood more likely to clot; damage that can cause heart attacks, strokes, and even sudden death. The chemicals in tobacco smoke can also inflame the delicate lining of the lungs and can lead to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

Finally, the recent Surgeon General’s report also adds more entries to the already-known list of smoking-caused diseases, including Type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, erectile dysfunction, and two additional cancers— liver and colorectal.

Because of the African American community’s propensity to smoke, all of these diseases and conditions have been common and prevalent in Black households for decades. And the nation’s Black doctors are the individuals who are on the “front lines” of healthcare, treating these millions of suffering and dying patients annually.

Also for decades, this propensity to consume cigarette products by the African American community was strongly driven by the heavy-handed marketing and advertising practices of the tobacco companies relentlessly targeting our communities; flooding them with radio, newspaper and magazine ads depicting “cool” men and women, puffing on Kools, Winstons, Pall Malls or other dangerous brands. Yes, the ad agencies and media outlets made money, but thousands of African Americans were, and are, suffering and dying.

We totally support the Black publishers (National Newspaper Publishers Association) and the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters in their efforts to have their outlets added to the media list designated to run the tobacco industry’s “apology ads.” As the individuals who have witnessed and treated, first-hand, the victims of smoking devastating incursion into our communities, the National Medical Association urges U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler to strongly consider altering the media plan, as proposed in United States v. Phillip Morris, et al, to include African American media outlets so that, in Judge Keller’s own words, the apology message reaches “everyone it needs to reach.”

Michael A. LeNoir, M.D. is president of the National Medical Association, assuming the post in June 2013. Dr. LeNoir is one of the top clinical allergists and pediatricians practicing in the San Francisco Bay area.

A healthy start for 2014

Good health should be on minds of everyone, especially African Americans, at the beginning of this New Year. Whether we contemplate our access to adequate health care coverage or make a conscience effort to lose weight and get into better physical shape, there are stark factors that we should all consider.

Of the 10 leading causes of death for African Americans, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), we, as individuals, can influence and often prevent, a number of these problems— primarily heart disease, stroke, diabetes, kidney disease and chronic respiratory disease. How? Basic, good health relies on the often-used terms: proper diet, good nutrition and regular exercise and as a physician, I would also add frequent check ups.

Clearly diet and exercise are always part of everyone’s effort to get healthy. But, it’s critical to know what’s important about diets and which exercises are best for your particular age and stage in life. In addition, as important as your commitment to be more active and eating right may be, it is just as important that you have a good health care provider for regular checkups and screenings.

Diet: There are a lot of diets out there. There are low carbohydrate diets, protein diets, rice diets, water diets, etc. Many turn out to be nothing more than “fads.” You can find almost any type of diet you want. However, the biggest elements contributing to successful diets include portion control, carbohydrate reduction and increases in the amount of fruit and vegetables that you consume. Counting calories helps if you know what a serving size means. When you see something is “150 calories” in a can or on a box, this means for “one serving.” Count the calories right. Also, recent studies suggest that over-the-counter weight reduction products are of limited value.

Exercise: Regular exercise is great for weight control, but not always for weight reduction. If you have one piece of pie that’s 500 calories, it will take you approximately two hours on an elliptical machine or treadmill to work off just those calories alone. Exercise should be geared to your age and stage. Over-exercising initially can lead to heart attack and stroke if you are really out of shape. You should have a conference with a professional trainer to ascertain what your goals are for your exercise program. You should be given proper, professional instruction on how to perform those exercises that will appropriately give you the best chance of doing things right and effectively, with the desired outcomes.

Checkups and Screenings: Most of us hate to go to the doctor. Even doctors hate going to the doctor. But going to your healthcare provider on a regular basis is critical to any new approach to health and fitness. It may not be necessary to go once a year when you’re young, but it may be a good idea because it focuses you on making regular visits. Don’t go around your birthday if it makes you too anxious, but keep in mind a set date for regular visits.

In many studies that show that African Americans have problems with health issues that other ethnic groups don’t have, it appears that too often we look at symptoms; seek care too late; and have no regular periodic schedule. Men over 40 probably need a PSA on a regular basis, along with an EKG. If you smoke, perhaps you need an evaluation of your lungs. Women over 40 need regular breast exams and lung exams, if they smoke. Regardless of what the literature says, PAP smears and assessments of bone density are critical. There are other tests and screenings as well but the key point is that everyone should make that all-important “visit to the doctor.”

For 2014 to be a great year, we all should become more serious about our health.

Michael A. LeNoir, M.D is president of the National Medical Association