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We’ve all been hearing about good ways to slow the spread of COVID-19. Washing your hands, not touching your face, social and personal distancing when out in public, or just staying at home. These messages are extremely vital considering that the North Side of Milwaukee and in particular, African-American residents have been hit hardest so far by coronavirus, both by serious illnesses and by deaths.
There are reasons for this, such as less access to COVID-19 testing and health care in general. But, the main reason, according to health officials, that African-Americans are at high risk to suffer serious health problems if they catch the virus is because they are more likely to suffer from preexisting conditions such as heart disease and diabetes, illnesses that are strongly linked to smoking.
Twenty-eight percent of African American adults in Wisconsin smoke, while those who earn less than $20,000 annually smoke at even higher rates. Both groups use tobacco at nearly twice the rate of the state average.
These statistics are more troubling when you consider the World Health Organization (WHO) and U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), among other leading health authorities, reported that smoking increases a person’s risk for COVID-19, and that they are more likely to suffer extreme illness if they contract the virus.
Smoking increases their risk because fingers, and possibly contaminated cigarettes, come into contact with lips,and because they are sometimes smoked communally. In addition, smokers experience higher rates of diabetes, lung and/or heart disease, which puts them at high risk for suffering serious COVID-19 related health complications.
The Wisconsin Tobacco Prevention and Poverty Network has been working for years to share information about the dangers of tobacco use. Included in those efforts is our outreach and partnerships to public housing residents and also those who suffer from mental illness, two populations that are among our city’s most vulnerable to COVID-19. They also smoke at much higher rates than the general population. The messages we share with them about quitting smoking are now more urgent than ever and the benefits of quitting will extend far beyond this current pandemic.
If you’re a smoker who wants to quit, you can call 1-800-QUIT-NOW for free help and medications. Medicaid recipients who smoke can also call their doctor to talk about free help provided through the Medicaid cessation benefit.
To join or learn more about the Wisconsin Tobacco Prevention & Poverty Network efforts in Milwaukee visit us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/WiTPPN/.