Take charge of your health today. Be informed. Be involved. Smoking

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These monthly pages focus on health disparities in the Pittsburgh region. They educate the reader about key health issues, and they inform readers about research opportunities and community resources. All articles can be accessed online at the New Pittsburgh Courier Web site. The monthly series is a partnership of the New Pittsburgh Courier, Community PARTners (a core service of the University of Pittsburgh Clinical and Translational Science Institute—CTSI), the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh and the UPMC Center for Inclusion.

This month the “Take Charge of Your Health” page focuses on smoking—a national health problem, but also a Pittsburgh health problem. Elizabeth Miller, MD, PhD, chief of adolescent medicine at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, and Esther L. Bush, president and CEO of the Urban League, sat down to talk about smoking.

EM: Good afternoon, Ms. Bush. It’s great to see you again. I always appreciate talking with you and hearing your perspective on important health issues that affect our community. This month the Courier health page focuses on smoking.

EB: I’m so glad we’re talking about smoking. I travel quite a bit and have many meetings in cities around the country. It always seems to me that people in Pittsburgh smoke more than in other cities around the U.S.

EM: Yes, that’s true. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 21 percent of men and 16 percent of women smoke nationwide. As our new Allegheny County Health Department Director Dr. Hacker mentioned, in Allegheny County 24 percent of men and 23 percent of women smoke. That is definitely higher than national averages. The national average of African Americans who smoke is 19 percent, while here it is more than 35 percent.

EB: What an unfortunate, big difference! I have never smoked myself. However, I know many people who struggle with smoking, even though they know it’s bad for their health and that it may have long-term side effects. What can people who smoke do to improve their health?

EM: That is a great question, Esther. The doctor side of me wishes that those who smoke would quit as soon as possible. But we all know that’s easier said than done. One thing I like to tell my patients, and those I meet in the community, is to practice “harm reduction” with cigarette or tobacco use. “Harm reduction” means minimizing the use of cigarettes. If people smoke one pack a day, they could make a goal to cut back to two-thirds of a pack each day. If people smoke only when they get upset or stressed, they could try to find another way to relieve stress, such as taking a walk, listening to music or talking with a trusted friend or family member.

EB: Good point. We all make health decisions every day. It’s a process to change the health behaviors we develop over time. Not only does UPMC have a free smoking program that anyone can join, the Pennsylvania Department of Health has a 24-hour, toll-free Quit Line. Anyone can call 1-877-724-1090 for more information about how to quit smoking. I encourage Courier readers who smoke, or know someone who smokes, to think about why they smoke and what resources they or those they care about may need to quit smoking. Talk to your healthcare provider. If you do not feel comfortable talking to your doctor, call the confidential phone number above.

EM: It’s obvious how much you care about our community, Esther. Thank you, once again, for your valuable insight. Next month our health page will feature current information about HIV/AIDS. With any questions about the information on this month’s page, readers can e-mail the Community PARTners Core at partners@hs.pitt.edu.

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