Smoking as a chronic addiction

As a person new to Rochester this summer, I was anxious to connect with other Hispanics.  I found out about a Spanish-language concert at the Rochester Public Market and went to enjoy the music. I was saddened to see evidence everywhere of one of the most destructive health factors to which anyone can be exposed – cigarette smoke. I am a resident physician who moved here in June to finish my training in Preventive Medicine and Public Health in the Department of Public Health Sciences at the University of Rochester Medical Center.  I am reading and learning about what makes us ill and what helps us stay healthy.  But what I’m learning is not always pleasant.

Latinos in Rochester follow the disturbing national trend of carrying a disproportionately large burden of disease and poor health. We collectively have a higher rate of heart attacks, strokes, heart failure, and limb amputation due to peripheral vascular disease than our Non-Hispanic White counterparts.  And smoking is a risk factor for all of those diseases.

The link between tobacco use and increased rates of heart disease, cancers, COPD, and complications at child-birth, is supported by countless scientific studies.  This is true whether tobacco is chewed or smoked; in traditional cigarettes, cigars, cigarillos, hookahs, anything really.

Most of my patients are aware that cigarette smoke is dangerous for them and the people around them.  Many people are also aware that quitting smoking and every other form of tobacco is the best thing they can do for their health. But often they don’t know how to do it.  If a smoker is lucky enough to have a primary care doctor, they often forget to ask about quitting tobacco in the rush of a 15-minute appointment. Nationally, Hispanic smokers are half as likely as Non-Hispanic Whites to get counseling or be offered assistance with smoking cessation.

Smoking is a chronic addiction that is best overcome using a combination of counseling and medications.  Counseling can teach a smoker to break the life habits that are associated with smoking. Medications treat the chemical addiction to nicotine and manage withdrawal symptoms.  A reliable source for both of these tools is the New York State Quit line.  The Quit line offers free telephone support from bilingual, specially-trained cessation counselors to help you come up with and execute your own personalized quit plan.  They are able to send you free printed materials to answer questions and help you plan your strategy.  If you meet certain requirements, you can receive up to two weeks of nicotine replacement medication free of charge, but you must live within the state of NY.  Immigration status is NOT a factor.  Information is NOT shared with any government agency outside the New York state Department of Health.

So, if you are considering or committed to quitting smoking, please call toll free 1-866-NY-QUITS (1-866-697-8487) or go online to  My hope is to see far fewer smokers at future Latino community events.  For the good of us all.

Marielena Vélez de Brown, M.D.
Preventive Medicine Resident Physician
University of RochesterMedicalCenter
Division of Public Health Sciences

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