Taking Texas Tobacco Free

Teenagers smoke electronic cigarettes. SDI Productions/E+/Getty Images

Smoking is the leading preventable cause of death and disability in the United States.

An illustration of white smoke creating an outline of human lungs on a black background. kiszon pascal/Shutterstock

The cigarettes of today are nothing like the products from the 1960s. Research shows that ammonia and other chemicals that make nicotine reach the brain receptors faster are added to the tobacco. Make no mistake – the addictive nature of cigarettes, vapes and e-cigarette is intentional. Education is key.

Tobacco cessation is associated with improved quality of life; a reduction in depression, anxiety and stress; and a decrease in one’s risk of dying from cancer, heart disease and cardiovascular disease. A project of Integral Care – an Austin-based agency – and the University of Houston, and supported by the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas, Taking Texas Tobacco Free (TTTF) is a program that aims to help those who smoke to quit or cut down on their habit.

Lorraine Reitzel, founder of the University of Houston HEALTH Institute and professor in the Department of Psychological, Health, & Learning Sciences, recognizes tobacco as an undertreated addiction. “There are several populations being targeted for smoking,” said Reitzel.

Tweens and teenagers are the next generation of addicted smokers, so the companies are working to hook kids early. “Vapes and e-cigarettes are marketed to kids,” Reitzel said. “You don’t see a lot of middle-aged people using bubble gum flavored vape products.”

African Americans are disproportionately marketed to, as diabetes and heart disease are already raging in this community. “Tobacco use plays a role in both of these ailments,” said Reitzel.

Those who identify as LGBTQ are targeted at parades and events, which often feature free samples of tobacco products – and they target young LGBTQ people, in particular.

In Houston, like in many major cities, smoking is a complicated problem for vulnerable populations such as individuals experiencing homelessness. These individuals are more likely to have comorbidities, such as mental health and behavioral health issues, as well as addiction tendencies.

Those who suffer from substance addiction and are already using another drug such as alcohol or cocaine are at a higher risk for smoking. People with Substance Use Disorders (SUD) are some of the most avid smokers. During the course of TTTF, clinicians were asked if the following statement was true or false: “Quitting smoking will not jeopardize substance use treatment and recovery,” many were surprised that the answer was True. The misguided belief of some, is that it’s cruel to take smoking away from those in substance addiction programs since they are already abstaining from their drug of choice. But one out of two people with non-nicotine substance use disorders will likely die from a tobacco-related illness.

Reitzel is passionate about reducing the number of smokers in Texas and in Houston. If you or someone you know is struggling to quit, it may be because our society is not fully prepared to support those who want to stop. Taking Texas Tobacco Free is training Houston city officials, clinicians and social workers and is even distributing materials about how to support smoking cessation during a time of crisis such as hurricanes which displace people from their homes and the coronavirus pandemic. To learn more or get help with quitting tobacco, see www.TakingTexasTobaccoFree.com or call 1-800-Quit-Now.

Category: Health Equity

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