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Study Ties More Deaths, Types of Disease, to Smoking

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This Tuesday, July 15, 2014 photo shows the tobacco in cigarettes in Philadelphia. A study ties a host of new diseases to smoking, and says an additional 60,000 to 120,000 deaths each year in the United States are probably due to tobacco use. The study by the American Cancer Society and several universities is published in the Thursday, Feb 12, 2015 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine. It looks beyond lung cancer, heart disease and other conditions already tied to smoking and adds breast cancer, prostate cancer and even routine infections to the list. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

This Tuesday, July 15, 2014 photo shows the tobacco in cigarettes in Philadelphia. A study ties a host of new diseases to smoking, and says an additional 60,000 to 120,000 deaths each year in the United States are probably due to tobacco use. The study by the American Cancer Society and several universities is published in the Thursday, Feb 12, 2015 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine. It looks beyond lung cancer, heart disease and other conditions already tied to smoking and adds breast cancer, prostate cancer and even routine infections to the list. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

 
MARILYNN MARCHIONE, AP Chief Medical Writer

Breast cancer, prostate cancer, and even routine infections. A new report ties these and other maladies to smoking and says an additional 60,000 to 120,000 deaths each year in the United States are probably due to tobacco use.

The study by the American Cancer Society and several universities, published in Thursday’s New England Journal of Medicine, looks beyond lung cancer, heart disease and other conditions already tied to smoking, and the 480,000 U.S. deaths attributed to them each year.

“Smokers die, on average, more than a decade before nonsmokers,” and in the U.S., smoking accounts for one of every five deaths, Dr. Graham Colditz, an epidemiologist at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis wrote in a commentary in the journal.

The report shows that current estimates “have substantially underestimated the burden of smoking on society,” he wrote.

About 18 percent of U.S. adults smoke.

More about the report.

WHERE DO THE NUMBERS COME FROM?

Researchers looked at nearly 1 million Americans 55 and older taking part in five studies, including the National Institutes of Health-AARP Diet and Health Study, since 2000. They tracked the participants’ health for about 10 years and compared deaths from various causes among smokers, never smokers and former smokers, taking into account other things that can influence risk such as alcohol use.

THE BIG PICTURE

Death rates were two to three times higher among current smokers than among people who never smoked. Most of the excess deaths in smokers were due to 21 diseases already tied to smoking, including 12 types of cancer, heart disease and stroke. But researchers also saw death rates in smokers were twice as high from other conditions such as kidney failure, infections, liver cirrhosis and some respiratory diseases not previously tied to smoking.

WHAT ABOUT BREAST AND PROSTATE CANCER?

The report strengthens evidence tying them to smoking. It finds that female smokers’ risk of dying of breast cancer is 30 percent greater than for nonsmokers. Male smokers have a 40 percent greater risk of dying of prostate cancer than nonsmokers do, the researchers found.

HOW DO THEY KNOW SMOKING WAS THE CAUSE?

One strong sign is that the risk of dying of these other conditions declined among people who quit smoking. The longer ago they stopped, the greater the drop in risk as time went on.

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Online:

Cancer prevention: http://www.aicr.org/can-prevent/?prevent50

Journal: http://nejm.org

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Marilynn Marchione can be followed at http://twitter.com/MMarchioneAP

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Community

OUSD Ended Oakland High’s Onsite COVID Testing, Parents and Teachers Want It Back

Oakland High School students attend school from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. every day except Wednesdays, when they get off school around 1:30 p.m. This allows them one day a week in which they have enough time to get tested after school. When testing is onsite, students can get tested during the school day.

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Oakland High School on September 13. Photo by Zack Haber.

On August 30, The Oakland Unified School District informed Oakland High School that they would stop providing onsite COVID-19 testing at the school, but many teachers and parents want the testing services to resume.

“If you don’t test for it, you don’t see that it’s there,” said Christy Mitchell, an Oakland High School teacher. She, and the other teacher who spoke to The Oakland Post for this article requested to use pseudonyms because they fear possible retaliation for speaking out.

Mitchell thinks it is likely there have been COVID-19 cases present in the school that the district has not documented because student and staff’s ability to get tested was greatly reduced when consistent onsite testing left campus. She worries there could be people attending school who have COVID but are not showing symptoms and could unknowingly spread the virus.

Anya Burston, another Oakland High School teacher, was directed to other OUSD COVID sites when she wanted to get tested last week, but she found them inaccessible.

“They gave me the list of the other sites where we could get tested, but they’re only open from 8 to 4,” said Burston. “We work from 8:00 to 3:30.”

If one factors in commuting time, Burston claims, it’s effectively impossible for teachers to get tested at district sites if they are not at the school a teacher is already working at.

Oakland High School students attend school from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. every day except Wednesdays, when they get off school around 1:30 p.m. This allows them one day a week in which they have enough time to get tested after school. When testing is onsite, students can get tested during the school day.

According to OUSD Director of Communications John Sasaki, the district wants to bring back consistent testing to the site but is facing difficulties related to capacity. The district provided a one-day pop-up testing service on Wednesday, and said he said such a service possibly could happen again next week, too.

He encourages students and staff to pursue other testing options.

“We also encourage our students and staff to visit our regional testing hubs, take advantage of community clinics, or get tested by their healthcare provider,” Sasaki said. “Likewise, we have provided at-home tests at all of our schools for families and staff to take when needed. Students are not allowed to miss class for COVID testing.”

The take-home tests are rapid tests, which have a higher rate of false positives and negatives then CRP tests, which take longer to deliver their results. Burston said she asked for an at-home test after not being able to get tested at Oakland High School, but was told there were none available because the school had run out.

She was eventually able to get tested at the pop-up service on Wednesday, but she said when she accessed the service she saw only one other teacher getting tested. She thinks people missed out on utilizing the pop-up testing service because the district informed staff and students about the site less than 24 hours before it appeared.

Sasaki said the district stopped providing regular on-site testing to Oakland High School after the number of positive cases began to decline at the school. During the first week of school, the district has confirmed there were 22 positive cases among staff and students at Oakland High School. This number dropped to five cases during the schools’ second week and then dropped again to one case during the third week.

Oakland High School had the most positive cases of any public school in Oakland during the first week of school, which lead to an entire class of students going into quarantine. The school also had abundantly available testing at that time.

Mitchell and Burston said during the first week of school, when some Oakland High School teachers heard a student in their class had come into contact with a person who had tested positive for the virus, they would take their entire class to get tested on site. At almost all other district sites during this time, students and staff did not have onsite testing available.

“Obviously with that amount of testing you’re going to have a lot more cases coming up,” said Mitchell. “The more testing we did the more cases we found.”

By the second and third week of school, Mitchell and Burston said although tests were still provided onsite, the school would run out of them. When teachers would take their classes to get tested, sometimes there weren’t enough available for everyone.

As testing became less available, COVID-19 numbers went down. During the fourth week of school, when testing facilities had left the site, the district documented no COVID-19 cases at Oakland High School. Last week, the fifth week of school, there were two documented cases.

“I think the optics are a huge concern for the district,” Mitchell said. “But pretending it’s not happening while you’re not testing for it is very disingenuous.”

A group of Oakland High School teachers are working to change the situation and hoping to pressure the district to bring back onsite testing. A few days after they received official word that the district was removing onsite testing, they began talking with each other.

“Many of us are really frustrated and we collectively felt we had to do something if the school and the district isn’t doing anything,” said Burston.

The teachers decided to spread word about the issue through flyers they created demanding onsite testing every day at the school and other COVID-19 safety measures.

They printed 300 flyers they put on walls throughout school and about 1,600 smaller flyers that they distributed to parents and students. The flyers linked to an online petition, which over 150 teachers, students, educators and community members have signed. The petition has interactive elements, in that it asks if those signers would be interested in attending a parent/student/teacher safety meeting.

Jennifer, a parent of a student at Oakland High School, signed the petition. She asked to only be identified by her first name, as other members of her family work at OUSD and she fears they could be retaliated against in reaction to her speaking out. She works in an ER and sees devastation COVID causes first hand.

“I know there’s a lot of kids out there with COVID because our ERs are packed,” she said. “I always support the teachers and I think onsite testing is definitely a necessity.”

Mitchell said teachers are considering direct actions to work towards improving COVID-19 safety measures at Oakland High School.

If Oakland High School teachers were to take such actions, it wouldn’t be the first time in recent history they have done so. On December 10, of 2018, the vast majority of Oakland High School teachers called in sick en masse and rallied outside of Oakland’s City Hall to protest what they saw as low wages and ineffective tactics of the Oakland Education Association, their union.

On January 18, of 2019, they participated in a similar “sickout” action, but this time students and teachers from other schools joined them. Participants estimated over 300 people in total marched to support teacher demands. These actions came just before the Oakland Education Association sanctioned educator strike, which lasted from February 21 to March 1, 2019.

But Oakland High teachers say before they engage in an organized actions related to COVID-19 safety, parents first need to understand what they are working toward, and teachers need their support.

“I think it’s really vital for parents and teachers to be working hand in hand on this,” said Mitchell.

The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

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Activism

East Oakland Community Clean-up

The office of Councilmember Treva Reid invites you to…

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Oakland Clean Up Flyer

The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

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Community

Many in Black Communities are Choosing Vaccination 

Inequities in health outcomes have always been with us. COVID-19 morbidity and mortality rates among African Americans rival or exceed those in heart disease, diabetes and other illnesses. Blacks sit atop most bad lists and at the bottom of most good lists. 

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Vaccination/Photo Courtesy of Shutterstock

The trail of illness and death left amid the spread of COVID-19 in Black and African American communities should come as no surprise.

Inequities in health outcomes have always been with us. COVID-19 morbidity and mortality rates among African Americans rival or exceed those in heart disease, diabetes and other illnesses. Blacks sit atop most bad lists and at the bottom of most good lists.

COVID-19 vaccinations offer us an opportunity to better balance the scale.

Unfortunately, even with widely available testing, highly effective vaccines, and extraordinary efforts by health departments to educate and encourage people of color to get vaccinated, many Black Californians remain skeptical.

We can only hope that the FDA’s full regulatory approval of the Pfizer vaccine on August 23 for those 16 and up convinces more to get the vaccine.  It’s worth noting that emergency-use authorization also remains in place for the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson shots, as well as Pfizer’s for 12- to 15-year-olds – and that all of these vaccines are safe and effective in protecting against COVID-19 and its highly contagious variants.

Eddie Fairchild and Steph Sanders were skeptical about the COVID-19 vaccine but came to understand why vaccination benefits our entire community.

Fairchild, a Sacramento insurance agent, said he knew of research that found Black and white people are often treated differently for the same health conditions leading to poorer health outcomes.

“I was hesitant,” he said. “I was going to wait and see how it panned out with everyone else.

But when a Black friend in the health care field told him he’d opted to get vaccinated, Fairchild asked him why.

“He said, ‘Risk-reward, and the risk is death.’ At that point I didn’t have to ask him what the reward was.”

With a finance degree and a belief that numbers don’t lie, Fairchild looked at the data. He learned that until 2020 the average number of Americans who died each year was about 2.6 million, but in 2020 that figure was 3.4 million. There was only one possible explanation for the death rate surge, he said.

“COVID is absolutely real,” he said, adding that three of his cousins died from the virus. “Taking all that into consideration, I decided that it’s risky to engage in the world and not be vaccinated. It made sense for me to get it.”

Racial gaps in vaccination have thankfully narrowed in recent weeks. But as of September 1, while Black people account for 6% of the state’s population, they account for 6.6% of COVID-19 deaths, which is 11% higher than the statewide rate, according to state department of public health data. Only about 55% of Black people in California have had at least one dose of the vaccine.

Reasons for the discrepancies run the gamut, from conspiracy theories like Black people are getting a less effective vaccine than whites or that the vaccine will eventually be deadly, to challenges in health care access. 

Mostly, it’s based on a lack of trust in medical and scientific institutions, which have a long history of racism and mistreating Black people.

So even when it comes to good things like vaccines, which are scientifically proven to be good for the community, it always comes back to trust.

Sanders, a Vallejo school principal, was hesitant because of the Tuskegee syphilis studies in which Black men who had the disease were intentionally not treated with penicillin. And he was dubious that an effective vaccine could be developed so quickly. 

In fact, the science and technology enabling development of the COVID-19 vaccines was in development for a more than decade before the virus emerged in 2020. The FDA authorized three vaccines for emergency use after they underwent a rigorous process and were proven through trials to be safe and effective at preventing severe COVID-19, hospitalization, and death.

He decided to get vaccinated when his school board decided last spring to bring students back into classrooms.

Today, he’s a fervent vaccine advocate. He holds “lunch and learn” forums for educators, encouraging vaccination.

“I’m a leader and people are relying on my knowledge,” he said. “I tell them, ‘Don’t make this about you, but about the people you love and care about. It’s about protecting them.’”

There is still a long way to go before Blacks achieve true health equity, but vaccination against a virus that is taking a terrible toll on our communities is a critical step in the right direction.

 

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