Dr. Mona Blog: Xavier University Tobacco Summit - Say TobacNo! - KMSP-TV

Dr. Mona Blog: Xavier University Tobacco Summit - Say TobacNo!

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

Six Surgeon Generals at the Tobacco Summit, all in the same room at the same time for the same cause.

"I am angry. We are all angry," said Dr. Boris Lushniak, current acting surgeon general.

Dr. Lushniak is angry about the effect of tobacco and tar poisoning on Americans.

There are many statistics to quantify and qualify the massive toll tobacco has taken on Americans, but two say it all – lung cancer being the top cause of cancer deaths in men and women, and heart disease being the top killer of both men and women.

Smoking damages health substantially, wholly, systematically and permanently, and it is the most preventable cause of disease.

The Tobacco Summit was held this month at Xavier University in New Orleans, La, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the first Surgeon General's report on smoking and health.

That surgeon general's name was Dr. Luther Terry, and he smoked too. That in and of itself tells you how pervasive the habit was, and still is, in America.

The summit was organized by the immediate past Surgeon General, Dr. Regina Benjamin.

It is rare that six surgeons general are all in the same area, and all alive, coming together to make a strong statement on the cause that united them.

Alyssa Paulsen, a senior at Wheaton College in Illinois, interviewed all six surgeons general. She asked each of them, individually and separately, what message they would give to youth today about smoking.

They all said essentially the same thing: don't start.

However, for current smokers they sent a different message: it's never too late to quit. Smoking's health effects can be reversed and/or minimized.

"Within hours, your circulation improves, within weeks your taste buds start getting stronger," said Dr. Antonio Novello. "If you quit by the age of 30, your chances of getting complications related to smoking are less than 10%."

Complications are caused by tobacco and other substances that accompany it in cigarettes, which increase your risk of heart disease, many cancers and stroke.

All of which are the top three causes of death.

They increase healing time from injuries and operations, and can cause chronic obstructive lung disease, a top cause of death. The list goes on and on.

"The first surgeon general's report on youth and smoking was released in 1994," said pediatrician Dr. Joycelyn Elders. "Nicotine is a teenage addiction. Ninety percent of the people who smoke today started before age 26. "

Public policy can have an incredible impact on improving health, Dr. David Satcher pointed out. He noted that the rates of lung cancer in women were increasing until the state of California became the first to restrict smoking in public places.

Just like that, the rates of lung cancer in women stabilized. "Today, 26 states have restrictions on smoking. We wish it were 50, and someday it will be," Satcher said.

He also emphasized that smoking illnesses were not limited to the U.S. "Nine hundred and fifty million people smoke in the world, and because we are citizens of the world, we must look at this from a global perspective."

"I remember the days when Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn were smoking on the screen. We don't see that anymore," said Dr. Audrey Manley.

The meeting not only had a strong message, but also had strong Chicago ties.

Dr. Lushniak grew up in Chicago's Ukrainian Village, Dr. Manley was a resident at Cook County Hospital, now Stroger, and Dr. Elders served as surgeon general under the Clintons; Hillary went to high school in Chicago.

Hundreds of children from local schools were bussed to the summit so they could hear the surgeons general speak about the addiction of smoking.

LeAnn Bennett is a 17-year-old senior at Simpson High School in central Louisiana.

"A lot of people don't even know what nicotine is," Bennett said. "Bullying is a really hot topic right now and nicotine is like a bully. It makes you do things you shouldn't do (get addicted)."

Panels discussed innovative communications campaigns to reach youth with anti-tobacco messages, and the roles that adults should play in helping educate their children to avoid unhealthy behaviors.

"Children learn what they live" was brought up to explain that if parents or other adults smoke, they are not serving as good role models for their children.

Joining Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids was mentioned as one way for children to become involved in spreading the message. Loud applause ensued when the topic of CVS yanking cigarettes from its shelves came up.

"CVS is a health pharmacy, so why did they even start selling tobacco?" asked 16-year-old DeShanda Smarr, a sophomore at Carver High School.

I was honored to moderate the media panel which was made up of Carol Pearson from Voice of America, Michelle Nealon-Woods from the Chicago School of Psychology, and student Alyssa Paulsen.

I also had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. John Ochsner, the son of the famous Dr. Alton Ochsner, who co-founded Ochsner Hospital. Both doctors. Ochsners are influencers of the anti-tobacco movement.

Take a unique look at the Summit and a first-timers experience in New Orleans here.

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