It seems simple, and you've no doubt heard it before: If you smoke, quit. If you don't smoke, don't start.
"Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among men and women; and African American men have the highest lung cancer incidence and death rates, compared to other racial and ethnic groups," said Dr. Pebbles Fagan, a health scientist in the Tobacco Control Research Branch at the National Cancer Institute (NCI). "If you prevent tobacco use, you prevent many of the cancers associated with it."
According to the NCI, smoking causes 87 percent of lung cancers. "People's lifestyles have a big impact on their quality of life and longevity. A lot of people don't know the lifestyle risk factors they have -- or how to modify those risk factors," said Fagan. "Smoking is addictive. Smokers need help, but they may not know how to quit or have access to resources to help them quit."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Surgeon General's Report states that smoking and tobacco use can cause cardiovascular disease and stroke; respiratory disease; and infertility; as well as leukemia, and cancers of the kidney, pancreas, uterine cervix, larynx, oral cavity, pharynx, esophagus, bladder and stomach.
Through her research, Fagan hopes to stimulate new ways to intervene in tobacco use among racial, ethnic and low- socioeconomic groups. "Smoking is a big problem among the poor, the unemployed, those with less than 12 years of education, the lower class and those who work in service and blue-collar jobs. African Americans have the lowest median income and the highest percentage of persons below poverty level. We have to consider how to address the macro-social context of tobacco use," she said.
Tobacco use is not just harmful to the user, said Fagan. "People still don't think secondhand smoke is dangerous," she said. "Exposure to secondhand smoke in the home or in the workplace can lead to tobacco-related illnesses. Of the 440,000 deaths that occur each year due to tobacco use, approximately 40,000 are due to secondhand smoke."
Fagan said that no matter how long a person has been smoking, it's never too late to quit. She suggested calling
1-800-QUIT-NOW or visiting www.smokefree.gov to find resources to help. "Quitting smoking early in life decreases the chances of smoking-related illnesses. You can't go back to zero risk, but you can reduce your chances of becoming ill and dying," she said.
Fagan, who takes time to meditate in the morning, hopes to continue to help build research capacity in tobacco control. "I truly enjoy mentoring young women scientists. It's important to pass on the torch," she said. "If we can build our research capacity, ultimately we can shift the paradigm on how we address tobacco-related health disparities."