Tobacco's bad, but it is not the main killer

As the Summit County Coroner, I was surprised to read that tobacco is the No. 1 cause of death in Summit County (“Tobacco has a lifetime of consequences for kids,” guest commentary by Jenniffer Gonzalez, Nov. 25). When I then saw the “We Count” organization ad in the Daily on Nov. 28, I felt compelled to clarify. I cannot abide by facts being distorted or inflated to make a point. I list tobacco use on a death certificate as “past smoker or current smoker” when applicable, but it is NOT the No. 1 cause of death in Summit County.
The No. 1 cause of death in Summit County is heart disease. It is usually not due to any one cause but a combination. You can be doing everything right and still have heart disease. In these cases, genetics is to blame. Social history of current or past history of tobacco use, drug use, obesity and processed food are the lifestyle contributors. There are only a handful of cases a year in Summit County that can be directly linked to tobacco use. These would include lung cancer, COPD or emphysema. So no, it is not the No. 1 cause of death in Summit County. I don’t know where Ms. Gonzalez pulled this number from, but she didn’t consult my office and it is obvious she did not consult the Colorado Health Department, either.
We live in a free market society that brings many choices, and people don’t always make the right choices. Tobacco companies have lobbyists, and the incestuous nature of their relationships with lawmakers contributes to this problem. We live in such a commercial society that it will continue to be an issue. These new tobacco products aren’t taxed due to a loophole in our state law. There is an interactive video program geared for students that I would like to bring to Summit County. It was developed by People Learning About Destructive Decisions or PLADD. It’s called “Beat the Reaper.” Part of my job includes trend analysis, public education and prevention. To quote PLADD: “Every decision made has a ripple effect that stretches well beyond what we can see or even imagine. Good decisions can be the difference between life and death.”
By my stating that tobacco is not the No. 1 cause of death in Summit County might cause some to think “The coroner says smoking and tobacco are not so bad.” That is not what I am saying at all. It is a stupid habit. Tobacco instigates many medical issues and makes exercise and stamina difficult. Becoming addicted to tobacco has been shown to lead to other addictions. So to kids, I say be your own person. Be an individual. Think for yourself. They aren’t your friends if they encourage you to do what they do. You can hang with them without joining in. Your decision should be respected. To adults, it’s your choice, but it’s not a smart one.
By Joanne Richardson

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