Report: Smoking Still Leading Cause of Preventable Death and Disease in Mass.

Nov 13, 2012

According to a recently released report, smoking is still the leading cause of preventable death and disease in Massachusetts, while the state also continues its struggle with illegal drugs. WAMC’s Berkshire Bureau Chief Lucas Willard reports…

In a report by the Massachusetts Health Council, a statewide non-profit agency that includes over 150 health oriented organizations, tobacco use is still the leading cause of preventable illness and death among Massachusetts residents – with 9,000 deaths attributed annually to tobacco use.

Joan Rubel, Project Coordinator at the Berkshire Tobacco-Free Community Partnership said that the near 9,000 figure isn’t surprising and is close to figures she’s seen in previous years. She says there are ways to the state can invest more in preventing tobacco related illness. She suggested taxing tobacco products besides cigarettes to discourage use.

Rubel also said that she’d like to see more insurance companies take strides to cover those trying to quit smoking. She said by taking preventative steps, it will save patients and the health care system money.

Rubel said that in the Berkshires, more urban areas including Pittsfield and North Adams have higher rates of addiction.

The report was released just before the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout, which is occurring this Thursday, November 15th.  According to the American Cancer Society and World Lung Foundation, an estimated 1 billion people will die across the globe during the 21st century due to ill health effects caused by tobacco. The Society also says that in the United States, tobacco use is responsible for almost 1 in 5 deaths.

In Berkshire County, Northern Berkshire Health Systems is one organization participating in the Smokeout. Spokesman Paul Hopkins said that the REACH for Community Health program will be providing information and resources at the North Adams Regional Hospital…

Berkshire Community College is also participating in the day's events.

The report by the Massachusetts Health Council also found that illicit drug use, including heroin is on the rise in Massachusetts, especially the Eastern part of the state. According to the Associated Press, the Council referenced a federal report that showed in 2011, Boston had the highest rate of emergency room visits related to illegal drugs among 11 major metropolitan areas.

Heroin addiction is also becoming a serious problem in the Berkshires. At a community forum hosted by the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition last week, Detective John LeClair  of the North Adams police and the Berkshire County Drug Task Force described the scope of the problem.

LeClair said that the increase in heroin addiction in Berkshire County is directly attributed to the rising rate of prescription drug abuse, including opioid painkillers.

Lois Daunis of the Northern Berkshire Community Council said at the meeting that for  every resident in Berkshire County, there are 32 doses of addictive prescriptions available.