The Great American Smokeout is Thursday November 19. This year, there’s both good and bad news when it comes to tobacco use in Wisconsin. The good news is that according to new data from the state’s Department of Health Services, overall smoking in Wisconsin sits at an all-time low of 17%. The bad news? The same data show Wisconsin’s most vulnerable populations smoking at alarming rates.
The Department’s 2014 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) reports that the following groups smoke at rates nearly double the state average of 17%:
- Individuals earning an income of less than $24,000
- Individuals with less than a high school degree
- African Americans
- Individuals enrolled in Medicaid
“While these findings aren’t entirely surprising given previous data, it is unacceptable that the disparities are still growing year after year and warrants immediate action” said Deb Heffner, Coordinator for the City of Milwaukee Tobacco-Free Alliance. “We cannot stand by and accept that an individual is more prone to smoke or have any other health disadvantages because of the race or zip code they were born into or because of any other socially determined circumstance.”
In addition to the groups listed above, adults that identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, or Queer/Questioning are as much as 40% more likely to smoke than the general public. Also, nearly a third of Wisconsin adults diagnosed with depression currently smoke.
Here in Milwaukee the City of Milwaukee Tobacco-Free Alliance is taking steps to address tobacco-related disparities through a comprehensive approach that includes education and collaboration. We draw on the best practices of coalition work, utilizing individuals and community partners to reach these vulnerable populations and ensure they have a voice. One example we are proud of is the development of a workgroup to specifically address the LGBTQ+ disparities, which is comprised of stakeholders and representatives from LGBTQ+ communities and serving organizations.
Heffner stresses the urgency of the work. “Tobacco still remains the number one leading cause of preventable death in the United States today, and costs us over $170 billion in healthcare each year. Health equity can be achieved by eliminating differences in tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke between groups. It starts with awareness to these disparities and then well -enforced and comprehensive tobacco control policies.”
For more on the City of Milwaukee’s efforts to address tobacco use in Wisconsin, visit our website or find us on Facebook. If you use tobacco and want to quit, call the Wisconsin Tobacco Quit Line at 1-800-QUIT NOW for free help and medications.