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Let’s honor King by working to end tobacco disparities

Guest opinion

The Florence County Health Department would like to continue to encourage our communities to recognize Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. even though his official day of recognition Monday has passed.

Dr. King, in his legacy, gave us all some very important messages. These messages should be shared far and wide and need to resound loudly in today’s divided culture. Staff at the health department think his accomplishments were important to our society and that we should consider his work and messages in our daily lives and not just on one special day.

Dr. King’s message of “our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter,” should be an inspiring reminder of why it is necessary to end tobacco-related disparities in our communities. Therefore, we would like to honor Dr. King’s legacy by encouraging you, our community members, to help us work toward ending tobacco-related disparities in Wisconsin, especially among African Americans.

According to the findings from the 2020 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey, a person’s social, economic and physical environment plays a significant role in the ability to be healthy. Low-income communities, especially those with high levels of discrimination and racism, experience high levels of pressure due to limited resources. The tobacco industry exploits this stress by advertising to youth and by discounting products in these low-income neighborhoods.

More and more communities and people are becoming aware of the importance of the comprehensive commercial tobacco control and policies. It seems that when commercial tobacco companies target low-income and/or particular populations (e.g., people of color) that they are blatantly stating to the world that these individuals in our society do not matter because they do not deserve the opportunity to make healthy choices. The part that is sadder is our community members buy into commercial tobaccos tactics — i.e. fruity tobacco flavors, discounts, tobacco-less products, etc.

There are ways that each one of us can help to reduce the disparities in our community, because each community does have them. Examples of best practice to help make our community and the state of Wisconsin a healthier place is to start by having a conversation with the kids in your life about the dangers of tobacco use. Believe it or not, they do listen to what you say.

Another excellent way to influence kids is to be a good role model. Parents, you can and do make a difference!

Finally, take the initiative to learn more about commercial tobacco and how menthol has made it into almost every type of tobacco product and why that matters — hint: it reduces the harshness of tobacco and lessens the irritation to the body when smoking.

Florence County Health Department, in alliance with the Northwoods Tobacco Free Coalition, continues to reach out to local retailers to provide education to owners and clerks to ensure that they are not selling tobacco products to underage youth and continue to work with the school by assisting with their tobacco free campus policy and the American Lung Association’s INDEPTH program at https://www.lung.org/quit-smoking/helping-teens-quit/indepth), which is an alternative to suspension or citation.

If you or a loved one needs help to quit using tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes, free help is available by calling 1-800-QUIT NOW (784-8669). If you have Medicaid and are a tobacco user, you should talk to your doctor about the free help available through the Medicaid cessation benefit.

The journey to a healthier tomorrow can be difficult, but in the words of Dr. King, “we must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope.”

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