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Letter to the Editor: Strong tobacco control programs important

Dear Editor:

In my years of working for women's public health I have learned a valuable lesson: If you want to dramatically improve women's health in North Dakota, convince them never to start smoking and help them stop smoking.

The top four leading causes of death among all women in North Dakota (heart disease, cancer, stroke and lung disease) all have one big risk factor in common - tobacco. According to the American Heart Association, smoking is a major cause of cardiovascular heart disease among women and women who smoke have an increased risk for ischemic stroke and subarachnoid hemorrhage. One year after quitting smoking, the risk of heart attack drops sharply and after 2-5 years, the chance of stroke could fall to about the same as a nonsmoker's.

Where heart disease is the number one cause of death among women, lung cancer is the number one cancer killer of women. Yes, that's right, lung cancer is the number one cancer killer of women and we know unquestionably that 90 percent of those cancers are directly related to tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke. According to the latest Surgeon General's report "If nobody smoked, 1 of every 3 cancer deaths in the United States would not happen."

This is why both the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association support state based comprehensive tobacco control programs as a top policy priority.

Smoking also reduces a woman's chance of getting pregnant, increases the risk of having babies who die from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and increases the risk of pregnancy complications, premature delivery, low birth weight, stillbirth and miscarriage. These are all critical women's health issues that will be positively impacted by work done to reduce tobacco use by women.

A strong tobacco control program based on science and best practices, like the one approved by the voters in Measure 3, is in fact one of the best women's health programs in the country.

Heidi Heitkamp