Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

Urban News Staff Reports

As African Americans and other communities of color suffer high rates of illness and death from COVID-19 and health experts warn that smoking can worsen COVID-19, leading health groups are calling for immediate action stop the tobacco industry from targeting these communities and to increase the availability of proven smoking cessation treatments. These actions to reduce smoking can protect lung health and reduce the risk of life-threatening complications from COVID-19.
Health experts have identified a number of factors that are contributing to the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 among African Americans, including high rates of underlying health conditions like heart and lung disease and diabetes, which increase risk of severe illness from COVID-19. Smoking is a major cause of these underlying conditions. 
“To reduce health disparities amid the coronavirus pandemic, shift your focus so that you begin to think like an advocate, not a victim,” said Dr. Oliver Brooks, President of the National Medical Association (NMA). The NMA is the largest and oldest national organization representing African American physicians and their patients in the United States. “Current data indicate that people of color suffer a disproportionate burden of illness and death due to COVID-19 and we know that African-Americans experience high rates of many chronic conditions linked to COVID-19. The CDC warns that people with chronic lung disease, moderate to severe asthma, serious heart conditions, cancer, severe obesity, diabetes, kidney failure and liver disease are at higher risk for severe illness. Smoking is a major risk factor for many of these conditions.”
Smoking has a devastating impact on the health of African Americans and is the number one cause of preventable death, killing 45,000 African Americans every year. Health experts say the tobacco industry has targeted African Americans with marketing for menthol cigarettes. Menthol cools and numbs the throat and increases the addictiveness of cigarettes, making it easier for kids to start smoking and harder for smokers to quit. As a result, African Americans quit smoking at lower rates than other racial and ethnic groups and suffer high rates of tobacco-related diseases, including lung cancer, heart disease, stroke, emphysema and diabetes. 
Health experts are warning that smoking and vaping can increase risk of severe complications from COVID-19. Smoking increases risk of respiratory infections, weakens the immune system and is a major cause of underlying health conditions. There is growing evidence that vaping can also harm lung health.
“Smoking is a major contributor to health disparities in our country, and now there is growing evidence that it can worsen the effects of COVID-19,” said Matthew L. Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “As policy makers work to address the COVID-19 crisis and the longstanding health disparities it has exposed, it is critical that they take bold action to reduce smoking and other tobacco use.”
To reduce the harmful impact of smoking on African Americans, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the National Medical Association and other leading health groups are calling on policy makers to ban flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes. The groups are also advocating for expanding the availability of smoking cessation treatments in communities of color. 
Smokers can get free help quitting by visiting or calling 1-800 QUIT NOW.

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