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Smoking is a threat to Clevelanders' health. But officials disagree about what to do about it

A man breaks a cigarette in half
Smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States, according to the CDC. Quitting smoking is one of the best things a person can do to improve their health and is beneficial at any age.

Cleveland is facing several health crises: lead paint contamination, racism, gun violence and mental health struggles. But the city’s top doctor said Tuesday tobacco use poses one of the greatest risks to public health.

“The number one leading preventable cause of death in Cleveland and in the country is smoking,” Health Director Dr. David Margolius said, adding that smoking rates in Cleveland are three times the national average.

Margolius was speaking as Cleveland Health Department officials and former smokers met with civic groups to share advice on how to quit and discussed the dangers of tobacco products. The former smokers are part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Tips From Former Smokers education campaign

The campaign is part of Cleveland's efforts to reduce smoking rates in Cleveland and promote healthier lifestyles, according to the health department.

Officials can do more to help people quit, said Margolius, who supports a proposedban on the sale of flavored tobacco products in the city.

But that proposal is facing resistance from the Cleveland City Council, which has tabled the proposal, and local merchants.

Those who oppose the ban say it will put the city's merchants at an economic disadvantage as consumers would be able to just go to stores outside the city to get their flavored tobacco, said City Council President Blaine Griffin.

“Why Cleveland only, and why do we regulate the heck out of Cleveland while everybody else gets to operate scot-free," he said.

Public health officials should address other health issues first or look at a county-wide ban that would be more equitable for Cleveland's merchants, Griffin said.

Margolius defended a Cleveland ban citing tobacco companies' history of targeting the Black community with advertisements for flavored tobacco.

“It's no accident that 85% of people who are Black who smoke smoke menthol cigarettes," he said. "It's no accident that the city of Cleveland has a smoking rate of 35%."

There are free resources to help smokers quit, according to the health department, including the CDC's quitline 1-800-QUIT-NOW.

Stephen Langel is a health reporter with Ideastream Public Media's engaged journalism team.