COVID And Tobacco

I read a very interesting article this week in The Atlantic magazine on the future of COVID in the United States and the world. The thesis of the article was that COVID infections, hospitalizations and deaths will resemble the illnesses caused by chronic tobacco usage. I found that very interesting and decided that would be the theme of my column.

For many years, an estimated 400,000 Americans die each year as a result of diseases caused or aggravated by the use of tobacco, mainly from smoking cigarettes. I remember when the Surgeon General declared that there was a link between tobacco use and lung cancer back in 1964. Almost immediately the tobacco companies began questioning the research and the science behind the link between smoking and lung cancer.

For more than fifty years the tobacco industry and their enablers in congress fought against any restrictions on tobacco use and sales in the United States. But in 1998 came the revelation that tobacco companies deliberately manipulated the amount of nicotine and Big Tobacco settled the lawsuits against them for billions of dollars.

Since then, tobacco use in the United States has fallen significantly as many companies became “smoke free” and some even refused to hire tobacco users. In 2006 the voters of Ohio banned all indoor smoking in public places. Just last year the complex where I live went “smoke free” in all buildings including personal residences. Now one cannot smoke even in their own residence.

I was doing employee benefit meetings and enrollments twenty years ago when companies began surcharging tobacco users for their health insurance. There was a lot of resistance to that move with many employees threatening to lie on the form about their tobacco use. But lying or a deliberate misstatement on an insurance form could get one fired or accused of fraud.

Now, it has been said that the current surge in COVID cases requiring hospitalization and deaths have become “a pandemic of the unvaccinated”. For more than a year there have been three highly effective vaccines available as well as booster shots to stop the spread of COVID. Yet a significant segment of Americans are still refusing to get vaccinated. Some are even saying that they would rather die than get vaccinated.

Such resistance to getting vaccinated against a disease that could potentially kill them is not going to go away, just as cigarette smoking has not gone away. But if one notices just who currently uses tobacco, it is concentrated mostly among the least educated and those who might be less affluent. The same is true about those who are unvaccinated against COVID.

In my circle of friends and family, who are mostly college educated business and professional people; everyone is vaccinated and boosted against COVID. Also, among my circle of friends and family just about everyone is college educated. So, perhaps I do have a prejudice there. But I also grew up around health care as my mother was a long time RN at Lutheran Hospital and I studied science in college. So, I respect the science and how vaccines are developed and tested.

I am also old enough to remember when the polio vaccine came out in 1955. It was revolutionary and was created using dead polio viruses. No one questioned the vaccine then as most families knew someone who was crippled from polio. Also there was no internet, social media and 24/7 cable news. My parents wasted no time in getting us vaccinated at our family doctor’s office.

Then a few months later, they brought the polio vaccines into the schools. I was in the second grade at Ridge Brook Elementary School when they set up in the school cafeteria and vaccinated the children. My mother, who wasn’t working then because she had three children at home, put on her nurse’s uniform and volunteered to assist the doctor giving the polio vaccine to the children at Ridge Brook school.

Seven years later a new more effective polio vaccine came out that was given orally. The new Sabin vaccine used live polio viruses and was administered on a sugar cube. We had “Sabin Oral Sundays” where entire families went to the public schools to get the vaccine after church. I remember going to the brand new Greenbriar Junior High School for that vaccine in the summer of 1962, prior to its opening in September 1962 when I entered the ninth grade there.

COVID is not going away. The disease will continue to be around and will pose a continuing health hazard. But those who remain or refuse to get vaccinated are just like those who continue to use tobacco, despite all the scientific evidence that tobacco usage is harmful to one’s health. But the presence of vaccines and boosters will prevent COVID infections from becoming deadly among the vaccinated.

Lee Kamps

Lee has been working with Medicare, Medicaid and private health insurance since he began working at the Erie County Welfare Department in January 1973 where a major part of his job was determining eligibility for Medicaid. He went into the private insurance business in 1977 with Prudential Insurance Company and within a short time had become one of the company’s top sales agents. In 1982, he was promoted into management where he managed two field offices and as many as thirteen sales agents. After leaving Prudential in 1986, Lee decided to become more focused on health insurance and employee benefits. He has advised many local employers on how to have a more cost effective employee benefit program as well as conducted employee benefit meetings and enrollments for many area employers. The companies Lee has worked with ranged from small “mom and pop” businesses to local operations of large national companies. Lee received his B.S. degree from Kent State University where he has been active in the local alumni association. He has completed seven of the ten courses toward the Certified Employee Benefit Specialist designation. He has taught courses in employee benefits and insurance at Cleveland State University and local community colleges. In addition, Lee is an experienced and accomplished public speaker. He has been a member of Toastmasters International where he achieved the designation of “Able Toastmaster – Silver” in 1994. He has also served as a club president, Area Governor and District Public Relations Officer in Toastmasters as well as winning local speech contests. Lee has also been a member of the Greater Cleveland Growth Association’s Speaker’s Bureau where he was designated as one of the “official spokespeople for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame” prior to the hall’s opening in 1995. He has given talks and presentations before many audiences including civic organizations, AARP chapters and many other community groups. With the implementation of the Medicare Modernization Act (Medicare drug bill) in 2006, Lee has shifted his focus to Medicare and helping Medicare beneficiaries navigate the often confusing array of choices and plans available. As an independent representative, Lee is not bound to any one specific company or plan, but he can offer a plan that suits an individual person’s needs and budget. In addition, Lee is well versed in the requirements and availability of various programs for assistance with Medicare part D as well as Medicaid. While he cannot make one eligible, he can assist in the process and steer one to where they may be able to receive assistance.

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Volume 14, Issue 3, Posted 12:53 PM, 03.01.2022