Smoking hit in ads, sermons East Baltimore drive is launched BALTIMORE CITY

June 29, 1993|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,Staff Writer

Concerned about the high rates of smokers among blacks in East Baltimore and smoking-related health problems, a group of ministers and the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Promotion yesterday launched a multimillion-dollar stop-smoking campaign.

Members of Clergy United for the Renewal of East Baltimore will preach from the pulpit of the dangers of smoking and offer smoking-cessation classes in their churches, organizers said.

The stop-smoking campaign, called Project BLESS (Baltimore Leading Everyone to Stop Smoking) will feature newspaper, radio and television advertisements and outdoor billboards warning blacks about the dangers of smoking.

In January, Project BLESS got a $4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health for the anti-smoking campaign.

"We want to be the model to eliminate smoking. If any change is to take place, it must take place from the pulpit," said the Rev. Melvin B. Tuggle II, an organizer of Project BLESS and chairman of Heart, Body and Soul, a health program of more than 150 East Baltimore churches and the Johns Hopkins Hospital and University.

About 20 ministers and health professionals attended a conference yesterday sponsored by Project BLESS on tobacco-related health issues at the Orchard Street Church offices of the Baltimore Urban League.

There are about 180,000 people in East Baltimore, according to Dr. Frances Stillman, a psychologist with the Center for Health Promotion.

In 1989, according to data from the Baltimore Health Department, the death rate from heart disease in East Baltimore was 261.5 per 100,000 population. In the United States, the rate was 155.9 per 100,000. The death rate from cancer in 1989 was 212.2 per 100,000 in East Baltimore compared with 148.6 per 100,000 for the United States as a whole, the Health Department said.

Dr. Stillman said that 1990 center data on East Baltimore categorize as smokers 43.3 percent of the males, 36.7 of the females and 39.7 of the people overall.

Those rates are higher than in Maryland and the United States, Dr. Stillman said.

According to 1990 data from the state health department, 23.7 percent of Maryland males smoke; 20.4 percent of women and 22 percent overall. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. figures are 28.1 percent males, 23.5 percent females and 25.7 percent overall.

"East Baltimore is only one of hundreds of places like it," Dr. Stillman said of urban areas. "Smoking is a serious, serious problem" that is not declining.

Although the ministers at yesterday's news conference were from East Baltimore, they hope to expand their anti-smoking crusade to include churches throughout the city. "In the African-American community, the church is the center. We'll try to inform the public about cigarettes. Everything we can think of under God's law we'll attack," said Mr. Tuggle, pastor of Garden of Prayer Baptist Church in the 1100 block of Homestead St. "We're not radical, we're just doing what the Scripture tells us."

Many of the ministers feel that tobacco advertisers unfairly target black communities.

And, the ministers say, there is a lack of support to quit smoking in the black community.

The Rev. Marshall Prentice of Zion Baptist Church in the 1700 block of N. Caroline St. said that Project BLESS will educate ministers about the health risks of smoking. In turn, the ministers will teach their congregations, who will carry the anti-smoking message to smokers not involved in a church.

"I think that a lot of lives can be saved," Mr. Prentice said, adding that other anti-smoking campaigns have not worked because churches have not fully participated.

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