1. Opinion

It's campaign season — and time to defeat public enemy No. 1

Published Jun. 29, 2016

I am tired of ineffective government and an irresponsible public. As a concerned citizen, I cannot wait any longer to announce the launch of my campaign.

Don't worry. I am not asking for donations. I am not even running for a public office. Not at this time, anyway.

My grassroots campaign is to defeat the No. 1 public enemy attacking us in plain sight, right under our noses.

This enemy causes the most number of preventable deaths in the United States, killing about a half-million people each year. What is this horrible enemy? You are right if you guessed "tobacco."

More than 15 percent of adult men and women in the United States are current smokers. Nine out of 10 adult smokers begin in their teens. Two-thirds become daily smokers before they reach the age of 19. In Florida, about 21,000 kids become smokers each year, and about 10 percent of high school students have smoked cigarettes in the previous 30 days.

Cigarette smoking is related to cardiovascular diseases, including heart attacks, strokes, aneurysms and gangrene. Smoking increases these risks twofold to fourfold.

Smoking causes not only lung cancer, but also cancer of the mouth, throat and many gastrointestinal and genitourinary organs. Thirty percent of all cancer deaths are related to smoking, due to carcinogenic chemicals. Ten percent of lung cancer happens in nonsmokers, as a result of secondhand smoke from family, friends or colleagues.

Smoking also causes disabling emphysema (COPD, chronic bronchitis). Each cigarette is estimated to cut about six minutes off one's life. Smokers can lose up to 10 years of their life expectancy. Smoking and oral contraceptives are a deadly combination. So are smoking and pregnancy.

Smoking is a form of slow suicide. As an addictive substance, nicotine on a milligram-per-milligram basis is considered 10 times more potent than heroin. Not only is their hard-earned money going up in smoke, smokers cause an extraordinary societal health burden, costing about $100 billion annually.

Over the years, the prevalence of smoking is coming down in the United States as a result of various educational and restrictive measures by advocacy organizations and the government. I have been part of this uphill battle on Capitol Hill. Finally, the Food and Drug Administration was given the authority to control nicotine.

However, recently, the White House deleted a provision of the FDA regulation that would have prohibited flavored e-cigarettes, little cigars and hookahs starting in November. Go figure.

The tobacco industry is estimated to spend more than $1 million every hour — you read it right — to promote its deadly products.

The best course of action is prevention, which means we have to make sure that teenagers will never start smoking, including e-cigarettes. My campaign is to recruit foot soldiers to teach and preach not only in schools and churches, but also at home and in the community.

Ready. Set. Go.

For the sake of our children, we have to win this campaign.

Dr. Rao Musunuru is a practicing cardiologist in Hudson and is the recipient of American Heart Association's 2005 National Physician of the Year award.