We understand the role tobacco played in Robeson County’s history, creating wealth for a few, jobs for many, and dollars that paid for infrastructure for all.
But that was then, a time when we would not have dared to deliver today’s Our View, and not now, when we no longer have to kneel at the altar of King Tobacco. Once a $100 million industry in Robeson County, tobacco today is a dried-up leaf, contributing about $25 million to the local economy, substantial, yes, but dollars that without we could breathe just as easily.
We timed this confession for today, the third Thursday in November, which has been designated by the American Cancer Society as the date for the annual Great American Smokeout. On this date, smokers are encouraged to give up smoking, which remains the No. 1 preventable cause of deaths — 440,000 a year — and disease in this country.
All but the willingly deaf, dumb and the blind understand the hazards of smoking — lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema — but one in five Americans continue to smoke, and the percentage locally is higher. Smoking in this country peaked in 1965, the year before the Surgeon General’s warning first appeared on a pack of cigarettes, at about 45 percent of the adult population. It then began a four-decade decline, but the percentage of Americans who smoke stubbornly remained at 20 percent from 2007 to 2011, before dipping to about 18 percent in 2012.
Who smokes? Men more than women, American Indians more than whites, whites more than blacks, blacks more than Hispanics, the poor more than the rich, and, incredibly, the young more than the old. The less educated a person is, the more likely that person is to smoke.
It is a costly habit. Cigarettes are not cheap, and since the poor buy them disproportionately, that is money that could better be used.
It is estimated that smoking costs this country about $250 billion a year, half of that in lost productivity, and the other half in health care.
The challenge locally should be obvious.
Today at 5 p.m., Southeastern Health and the Gibson Cancer Center will recognize Lung Cancer Awareness Month and the Great American Smokeout with an event at 5 p.m. at Biggs Park Mall. It will feature presentations by physicians, an interactive experience to show how long a person who smokes might live, a tobacco product trade-in and resources to help people to stop smoking.
In advance we will share this not-so-fun fact: It is estimated that a single cigarette takes 11 minutes off the smoker’s life.
We don’t know why anyone today would start smoking with the avalanche of information that is available about how it steals a person’s health. The only thing more confusing is why a smoker would not quit, except that we concede it’s a hard habit to break.
For those who want to do so, help can be found for free at Biggs Park Mall today.