Local health advocates are using this week to discourage tobacco use and are introducing the dangers of a relatively new term — “thirdhand smoke.”
Tennessee Quit Week, a statewide initiative that encourages Tennesseans to stop using tobacco, ends Friday, and Be Aware Blount, the county’s anti-drug coalition, is using this week as an opportunity to spread awareness about tobacco’s dangers.
Nearly 21% of Tennessee adults smoke cigarettes and 5.8% use smokeless tobacco, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows.
“We know that smoking is actually the leading cause of preventable disease in the United States and that certainly translates into Blount County as well,” Be Aware Blount Executive Director Amanda Ingle-Lenski said. “And of course, we have to really consider COVID in the midst of all this, too, because tobacco use is directly correlated with higher risk for a severe COVID case.”
The COVID-19 pandemic also has brought changes to Quit Week and forced the anti-drug coalition’s efforts online.
This week’s observance, Feb. 21-26, consists of an information-sharing social media campaign, in which Be Aware Blount is posting different tobacco addiction-related facts each day.
The sole in-person event of the week was held Feb. 21 when Blount County Mayor Ed Mitchell signed a proclamation officially declaring Feb. 21-26 as Quit Week 2021 in the county.
People who smoke cigarettes are two to four times more likely to develop heart disease or have a stroke, the CDC states. Smokers also are 25 times more likely to develop lung cancer.
In Tennessee, there was an annual average of 32,019 smoking-related deaths from 2005-09, CDC data shows.
There are also health risks for people who are around someone smoking. Secondhand smoke — the combination of smoke from the burning end of a cigarette and the smoke breathed out by smokers — is a common phrase. But people may not know about thirdhand smoke, Ingle-Lenski said.
“Thirdhand smoke is a relatively new term, but it’s the idea of you’re regularly in an area where there has been smoking but no one’s smoking there,” she said. “The residual tar and tobacco and nicotine that stays in the area still affects your health.”
Most people know the health risks and many want to stop, but quitting tobacco is difficult because of nicotine’s addictive qualities. The CDC says it takes an average of eight to 10 attempts to kick the habit for good.
What many people might not know, though, is just how expensive a tobacco habit is. Ingle-Lenski said buying a daily packet of cigarettes in Tennessee costs more than $1,800 annually.
Though difficult, Ingle-Lenski said quitting tobacco is necessary for a healthy community.
“We know that a lot of people use medication assistance, but not a lot of people use counseling services or mental health services in addition to any sort of medication that they would use,” she said. “That’s actually been proven to be pretty effective — if you have both.”
People looking to quit can call Tennessee’s tobacco cessation helpline at 1-800-QUIT-NOW or email info@beawareblount. org.