That’s not a knock on Relay. Its purpose, both in spirit and in money for research, is solid.
Yet, it’s easy to lose faith in scientists’ ability to render cancer as yesterday’s news as polio and small pox. Each day, innumerable numbers of American families are caught in cancer’s grip. Alabama, whose unhealthiness has long been established, is among those states in which cancer is as prevalent springtime pollen.
The reasons are varied, from family history to sun-damaged skin, but perhaps none is as obvious as Alabamians’ love affair with tobacco. Anything that puts carcinogens in our bodies is deadly — cigarettes, pipes, snuff, chew, cigars. The correlation between tobacco use and cancer rates is undeniable.
As Calhoun County’s Relay for Life begins tonight at McClellan, consider these facts courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American Cancer Society:
• In 2011, 22.9 percent of Alabama high school students said they had smoked at least one cigarette in the last 30 days. (That’s above the national average.)
• 9.5 percent said they had smoked on 20 or more of the 30 days before they were surveyed. (That’s also above the national average.)
• 9.8 percent said they had used smokeless tobacco at least once in the prior month.
• Overwhelming, adult smokers become addicted to tobacco during their teenage years.
Cancer is a varied beast, with some types being veritable death sentences and others having good rates of survival if detected early. This is where the position of Alabama’s governor — who abhors the Affordable Care Act, which would help thousands of residents gain health insurance and care — contrasts sharply against the need to provide more Alabamians with ample access to doctors.
Truth is, we can Relay ourselves all weekend, but Alabamians — particularly those who smoke, despite the health risks — deserve affordable health care. Likewise, one of the strongest messages Relay for Life and the American Cancer Society can broadcast is to stop doing things that all but invite cancer to your doorstep.
In other words, stop smoking. Today.
Getting young Alabamians to put down their cigarettes would be a long-term gift the Relay for Life community could provide.