Monday, January 20, 2014

As national smoking rate has declined, Kentucky's has gone up

Randy Jackson, 50, of Louisville, said he's smoked for 20 years.
(Photo by Aaron Borton, special to The Courier-Journal)
"Kentucky has failed to keep up with the nation’s gains in limiting tobacco use, outlined in the U.S. Surgeon General’s just-released 50th anniversary report on smoking and health," points out Laura Ungar of The Courier-Journal in a story tracing the changes since the report.

"Since 1965, the report says, the percentage of U.S. smokers dropped from 42 to 18. But state-by-state statistics that date to 1995 show Kentucky has actually lost ground, with smoking rates rising half a percentage point — even as the nation’s rate dropped by five points." The state's rate is 28.3 percent.

Why is that? ”Kentucky is historically a tobacco-growing state, and many tobacco companies previously were here,” Richard Baumgartner, professor and chairman of epidemiology and population health at the University of Louisville, told Ungar. ”And there’s a longstanding culture of growing tobacco and smoking tobacco. It’s sort of ingrained.”

Ungar notes, "Kentucky has not been able to pass a statewide smoking ban, and the state spends a small fraction of the $57 million a year the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends for tobacco prevention — just $2.1 million in each of the last two fiscal years. And state cigarette taxes are 60 cents a pack, compared with a national average of $1.53."

Meanwhile, the state leads the nation in lung cancer and deaths from it, and ranks high in other forms of cancer that can be caused by tobacco. "In Kentucky, 7,800 residents a year die of smoking-related illnesses, nearly a quarter of high school students smoke, and direct healthcare costs attributed to smoking total $1.5 billion a year," Ungar writes.

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