National Conference on Tobacco or Health Held in Kansas City, Highlights Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Tobacco Use

Ella Szeto of Kansas City

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – In a report issued more than a decade ago, the U.S. Surgeon General found that smoking among adults was most prevalent among blacks and Native Americans.

“What is sad,” anti-smoking advocate Pebbles Fagan told colleagues Thursday, “is that those statistics are still there.”

As an opening speaker on the second day of the National Conference on Tobacco or Health, Fagan provided a range of statistics highlighting racial and ethnic disparities in tobacco use. She is director of the Cancer Prevention and Control Program at the University of Hawaii Cancer Center.

Fagan said the percentage of smokers among Native American adults far outstripped that of other racial and ethnic groups, according to 2010 survey findings from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For them, the percentage was more than 30 percent versus about 20 percent of U.S. adults overall who smoke.

Fagan also cited CDC data indicating that blacks showed the most interest in quitting smoking (approximately 75 percent), but that they had the lowest cessation rate across four racial/ethnic groups.

Fagan’s presentation should leave a “pain in all of our guts,” said fellow speaker Jeannette Noltenius, director of the National Latino Tobacco Control Network.

More than 2,100 tobacco-control advocates from around the country gathered at the three-day conference, which was scheduled to conclude Friday. National, state and local public health officials have held these annual gatherings since the mid-1990s.

“It’s nice to have the world come to us,” said Kimber Richter, a professor of Preventive Medicine & Public Health at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan.

Richter was among a number of KU Med researchers on hand to discuss study data. They joined hundreds of other presenters who stood at posters outlining the designs and outcomes of their projects.

Richter and her colleagues presented findings from a few studies geared toward smoking cessation efforts in rural areas.

One significant result, Richter said, was that smokers were very satisfied with long-distance tobacco cessation counseling via phone and video conversations.

Another study looked at the effectiveness of offering cessation counseling over the phone to smokers among inpatients at rural hospitals. A minority of smokers agreed to participate, and researchers found it hard to get staff in some hospitals to identify and refer patients.

Dr. James Gardner, an internist from Manhattan was among the spectators in the poster area. He is past president of the Tobacco Free Kansas Coalition.

“With tobacco,” Gardner said, “as it is studied more and more, it just kind of re-evaluates the facts of life about tobacco not really being made for human consumption.”

In conjunction with the conference, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a progress report on national efforts to reduce tobacco use.

The report highlighted several legislative victories on the national level, including enactment in 2009 of the economic stimulus bill and the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act.

The stimulus included approximately $200 million to support local, state, and national tobacco prevention and control efforts, according to the report, and the Tobacco Control Act authorized the Food and Drug Administration to regulate thousands of tobacco products.

In addition, the report said, the Prevention and Public Health Fund established by the Affordable Care Act is supporting establishment of tobacco-free environments.

Former smokers were also on hand at the conference.

One of them was JoAnne Chaney of Overland Park.

She attended a rally aimed at eliminating the smoking ban exemption for Kansas casinos.

One organizer, Cynthia Hallett, executive director of the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation, said that 19 states have smoke-free workplace regulations that include casinos. She said Missouri and Kansas were not among them.

Chaney said she quit smoking 15 years before going to work in 1998 as a card dealer at a local casino. Then – surrounded by smokers at work – she began having the bronchial and sinus problems she had had before she quit.

She loved the job, but resigned on the advice of her doctor.

The culture among casino workers, she said, was to stay silent about the secondhand smoke.

“If I was still there,” Chaney said, “I would not be here (at the conference), and I would not say a word.”

The Health Forward Foundation is proud to partner with the Kansas Health Institute news service to provide weekly health stories about health and policy issues impacting the greater Kansas City region. This News Service is an editorially independent program of the Kansas Health Institute and the Health Forward Foundation and is committed to objective coverage of health issues.

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