Pittsburgh may be the City of Champions, but a high smoking rate is not the competition its residents should want to win, said Allegheny County Councilman Tom Baker.
According to the County Health Department, 23 percent of adults in the county smoke, which accounts for many thousands more smokers than the state's average of 21 percent or the national mean of 18.
“We’ve got a problem with tobacco here in Allegheny County,” said Health Department Director Karen Hacker. “You just have to walk around Downtown to know that what I’m saying is very accurate.”
Hacker was joined by Tobacco Free Allegheny officials, anti-smoking advocates and former smokers Downtown on Monday to celebrate "Allegheny Quits for Life" Week, which runs through Saturday.
The Plan for a Healthier Allegheny, released in May, seeks to reduce the number of adult smokers by 10 percent over the next five years. With about 230,000 smokers in Allegheny County, that means they'd see a decrease of 23,000 smokers.
Hacker also said smoking-related health care costs in the county total $635 million annually.
“Whether you smoke or not, tobacco is a major public health issues,” she said. “It affects all of us, it drives our healthcare costs, it affects our loved ones. Secondhand smoke is known to affect children. It’s known to affect workers who have to work in these environments.”
Al Steele, a former smoker, underwent a laryngectomy — the removal of his “voice box” — and another surgery that stripped him of 52 lymph nodes.
Using a computer-assisted voice prosthesis, he described how horrendous the operations were for him. Eventually, he said he returned to work seven weeks after the operation "scared to death," but blessed to be alive.
“There cannot be a positive outcome if you are a smoker," he said. "I’ve survived 10 years, but I’m still at risk for other types of cancer.”
Students from Duquesne Elementary School and Urban Pathways Charter School were honored at the event by Tobacco Free Allegheny for their winning videos and anti-smoking public service announcements.
Hacker urged those who smoke or those who know people who smoke to call the Pennsylvania quit line at 1-800-QUIT-NOW.
“The good news about quitting is that we have ... many many strategies that can help you now," she said. "There’s a lot of various, different medications, for example, that can help with that process.”