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The news that Ron Cephas Jones has died at the age of 66 has likely left fans of the award-winning actor and star of the hit TV drama, This Is Us, mourning the loss of such an enormous talent.

Jones’ death was confirmed Saturday and was attributed “to a long-standing pulmonary issue.” PEOPLE reported that Jones “privately battled chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and received a double lung transplant at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in 2020.”

A closer look at the statistics around the disease more commonly known as COPD shows that it is the third leading cause of all deaths in the entire world. But it is Black people who die the most from the disease, statistics show.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), death caused by the progressive, debilitating respiratory condition “appears higher in blacks in the USA.”

Beyond that, people from all backgrounds who contract COPD have done so mostly because they are or have been tobacco smokers at some point in their lifetimes. As many as 90% of the world’s COPD cases have reportedly been caused by smoking cigarettes.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 19% of Black people use tobacco products, with more than 8% of Black youth also using tobacco products.

More ominously, the CDC found that “African American people usually start smoking at an older age than White people do but are more likely to die from smoking-related disease.”

The New York Times reported that Jones smoked two packs of cigarettes daily “for most of his life, and he kept smoking even after his emphysema diagnosis.”

Two years ago, Jones told the New York Times that he “was in total denial” about his condition, trying to convince himself that it was temporary.

“I told myself that it would pass, or that I was just getting older,” Jones said. “I was afraid and didn’t want to change what I wasn’t ready to change.”

According to NIH, “Several reports have demonstrated that ‘African Americans’ develop COPD with less cumulative smoking and at younger ages, suggesting greater susceptibility to the damaging effects of tobacco smoke.”

In addition to cigarettes, other risk factors for being diagnosed with COPD include “a lower baseline lung function.”

Many non-smokers are also affected by the disease. Air pollutants, including secondhand smoke and some heating fuels, as well as dust, gases and fumes are also cited as causes. Genetic predisposition can cause the disease, too.

The high prevalence and mortality rates of Blacks with cardiovascular disease, diabetes and strokes have also been considered in determining how to stop COPD from being deadly. Questions of whether race or gender influence COPD susceptibility have also been introduced in trying to figure out the future impact of the disease.

Treatments to manage COPD symptoms include inhalers and other medications, oxygen, physical activity training and pulmonary rehabilitation. There is currently no cure for COPD. However, with medical professionals trying to figure out the disease’s future impact, a cure is hoped for soon.


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