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Everyone knows smoking is bad for you. But many do not realize the worldwide implications that tobacco has on health care and human rights, said Dr. Carolyn Dresler, the director for the Arkansas Department of Health Tobacco Prevention and Cessation.
"The tobacco epidemic is a global epidemic of which Georgia or the U.S. is just a piece of the puzzle," Dresler said. "For the most part what we treat are preventable diseases."
Dresler spoke to a group of medical professionals and representatives from community groups about the importance of tobacco cessation Tuesday at the Chattahoochee Country Club.
Dresler presented the group with some alarming facts — for example, that smoking causes more deaths than AIDS, car crashes and alcohol and that 1.5 times more women die from lung cancer than from breast cancer.
"It’s the leading cause of preventable death in the developed world," Dresler said. "At the present time we’re going to have around 5 million deaths per year from tobacco."
Though teaching children not to smoke is necessary, she said it’s more important for doctors to help their patients quit.
"A smoker, they have a 50-50 chance of dying from a tobacco-related disease," Dresler said. "If you quit smoking in middle age, you are statistically unlikely to die from a tobacco-related disease."
Studies show that the years with the highest volume of smokers correlate with the years with the highest volume of lung cancer around 20 years later.
Dresler also pointed out the dangers of smokeless tobacco.
She warned the group to be on the lookout for a popular Swedish tobacco product known as Snus that is now being marketed in the United States. It comes in a small pouch that is placed in the upper lip and requires no spitting.
Dresler said tobacco companies are marketing this type of tobacco more aggressively as smoking bans become more pervasive, reducing the places cigarettes are allowed.
Locally, governments have taken action to reduce smoking in public places. For example, the Gainesville City Council voted in February to ban smoking in city parks and recreational facilities.
Jackie Wallace, president of the United Way of Hall County, attended the event and said she would like to incorporate tobacco cessation and prevention into the United Way’s programs.
"One of our areas of focus is on health," Wallace said. "This has to be a community-wide focus."