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Leading the charge against tobacco

Dr. Karen Beard

While attending a zoom conference, guests listened as Dr. Karen Beard explained why she is leading the charge when it comes to helping the Black community beat its tobacco and nicotine addiction.

Beard has a personal history with this battle as her late husband was addicted to nicotine and ultimately lost his life because of it. With her background as a counselor, she began to question why she couldn’t help her husband beat his addiction.

“Honestly, being transparent, I had a lot of guilt around that because with my background with counseling and psychology why wasn’t I able to help him? That’s what I kept asking myself until I discovered even though I knew psychology and counseling, I didn’t know tobacco.”

This led to Beard obtaining her certification in 2014 from Flordia State University as a tobacco treatment specialist.

“So I would like to say his death was kinda like a calling on my life to do the work I am doing as a cessation treatment specialist,” Beard said. “One of the questions I get all the time is why do people continue to smoke? There is no simple answer to why people continue to smoke. One thing I discovered is the tobacco-related diseases that we talk about—the Lung Cancer, Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease [COPD], all those other horrible diseases—show so far into the future that when you’re talking to someone now, what they do is called delay discounting, which gives people a false sense of their health.

“Another reason people continue to smoke is that if their environment contains people who smoke, it’s more difficult,” Beard added, explaining drugs, cigarettes and alcohol are not the only things people can be addicted to. “Some people use nicotine to manage negative emotions. So there’s no one simple reason for why people smoke. But I like to tell people no matter what the reason is, we must show compassion and empathy because truth be told, you may not smoke, But I guarantee you have something.”

Beard’s program focuses on the African-American community in Service Planning Area (SPA6) which is South LA.

“Seventy percent of African-Americans smoke, but only three percent quit. Currently, with the public health department and various other associations, we are working to deliver a tool kit to help low-income communities and African-American communities.”

Beard also  said the work will be divided, with the other health organizations involved. “I spoke with someone from MLK (Community Hospital) this morning, she is working more with adults, ladies and men, and I’m hoping to bring on an organization that helps children.”

Beard wants the ability to reach different communities by making the toolkits subjective to that specific communities problem.

“For instance, we are working in the African-American area looking at what’s called trauma-informed care,” she said. “We know this community has challenges, so we have to be open to not giving them an approaches and make it specific for the community and also individualized for the person.

“We started on December 15, I just completed the recruiting of our  organizations, and in March we will start our onboarding, then in April, we will start training. Then in year two, we will provide our services to the community, but this is a loose timeline.”

Nicotine addiction takes over 45,000 Black lives a year, more than AIDS, police brutality, car accidents, alcohol, and other drugs combined.

For information incorporating tobacco intervention programs, Amplify and the African-American Tobacco Control Leadership Council (AATCLC) will be accepting applications for funding at Deadline is March 25.