Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Kentuckians agree regionally on tobacco controls; poll shows wide differences among regions in impact of drug abuse

By Al Cross
Kentucky Health News

In a state that once had more tobacco farms than any other, Kentuckians in all regions of the state support policies that discourage use of the product, according to the Kentucky Health Issues Poll.

"Such policies could greatly improve Kentucky's overall health," says the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, which co-sponsors the poll each fall. It issued a package of reports that broke down a wife range of previously reported poll results on a regional basis.

Kentucky has fewer than 5,000 tobacco farms, down from a high of 60,000 in 1982, but still has one of the nation's highest smoking rates, 26 percent. That leads to an estimated $2 billion in annual health-care costs.

In every region of the state, a majority (ranging from 59 to 70 percent) of people polled said it would be "difficult" or "very difficult" to make the most important change in their personal health behavior, which for most smokers would be to stop smoking.

"Kentucky adults in every region recognize that improving diet, getting more exercise and quitting smoking could help improve personal health, but the changes are difficult," said Susan Zepeda, president and CEO of the foundation. "Policies around these areas could help all Kentuckians improve their personal health."

The policy getting the strongest support in the poll was tobacco-free school campuses, favored by 85 percent statewide. Fewer than a third of Kentucky's school districts have such policies, but enough do to cover almost half the population.

A statewide ban on smoking in workplaces got 66 percent support. Such a ban is unlikely during the administration of Gov. Matt Bevin, who says the issue should be decided locally. About a third of the state's population lives in jurisdictions with comprehensive smoke-free ordinances; another 10 percent or so live in places that have ordinances with varying exceptions.

There was little difference among the five regions in polling on the two issues.

The poll found regional differences in the percentage of Kentucky adults who said they had no insurance, from 18 percent in Western Kentucky to 8 percent in Eastern Kentucky. The statewide uninsured rate reported at the time of the poll was 13 percent. Other surveys have showed the number in the single digits statewide, after expansion of the Medicaid program under federal health reform.

Health reform also provided subsidies for buying insurance, but some consumers have complained about high deductibles and co-payments. In Northern Kentucky, 34 percent of poll respondents said they had difficulties paying their medical bills in the previous 12 months. The figure was 31 percent in Appalachian Kentucky, 30 percent in Greater Louisville, 25 percent in Western Kentucky, and 22 percent in Greater Lexington.

"An increasing number of Kentuckians have health insurance, but many are still delaying or simply can't afford necessary health care," Zepeda said.

Federal health reform was most popular in the Louisville area, at 44 percent support, and least popular in Northern Kentucky, with 33 percent. Generally, the more impact people said reform had on them, the more likely they were to support it. Three of five Northern Kentuckians said they had not been affected by the reforms but only 45 percent in the Louisville area said that.

There are bigger differences in the impact of drug abuse. One-third of Eastern Kentucky residents in the poll reported reported family members or friends struggling with prescription drug abuse, but only 16 percent in Western Kentucky said so.

Heroin use has caused problems for 35 percent of respondents' families and friends in Northern Kentucky, 17 percent in Greater Louisville, 14 percent in Greater Lexington, 10 percent in Eastern Kentucky, and 8 percent in Western Kentucky.

The regional reports for Eastern KentuckyGreater LexingtonGreater LouisvilleNorthern Kentucky, and Western Kentucky, and associated news releases, are available at

The poll was conducted Sept. 17 through Oct. 7 by the Institute for Policy Research at the University of Cincinnati. A random sample of 1,608 adults from throughout Kentucky was interviewed by landlines and cell phones. The statewide poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.4 percentage points, but the smaller regional samples have higher error margins. The complete data file, codebook and survey instrument will be posted by June 30 at with other data files from previous polls.

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