Statewide Smoking Ban Crucial Step to Fight High Lung-Cancer Deaths in Ky



While most Kentuckians enjoy being ranked No. 1 for our sports teams, there’s another top ranking we’re not so proud of: our state continues to be No. 1 in lung cancer incidence and mortality.

Lung cancer accounts for 35 percent of total cancer deaths in Kentucky, which is seven points higher than the national average.

One of the main initiatives of the University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center is to reduce the number of cancer deaths in the state by 50 percent, focusing heavily on our major killers: lung, head and neck, colorectal, breast and cervical cancers.

We’re making great strides already, particularly in the area of lung cancer. Just last fall, UK, the University of Louisville and the Lung Cancer Alliance were awarded a major $7 million grant from the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation to develop a unique collaboration to reduce the burden of lung cancer through provider education, survivorship quality of life and life-saving lung-cancer screenings.

But this is work that largely focuses on what we can do after the damage has been done.

The fact is, tobacco use — both direct and secondhand — is the primary cause of lung and other cancers, in addition to causing dozens of other diseases. It is considered to be the largest preventable cause of early death in the United States.

In Kentucky, tobacco-related illnesses are responsible for $1.92 billion in health-care costs annually, while productivity losses due to tobacco use cost us roughly $2.3 billion a year.

To truly make a difference in this area, we need a multipronged approach to preventing tobacco use and exposure, similar to the approach that Dr. Thomas Frieden, former New York health commissioner and current Centers for Disease Control director, took during his time in New York.

His tactics included a widespread smoking ban in workplaces including restaurants and bars, an increase in tobacco taxes, and an aggressive ad campaign showing the damage smoking does to your body, along with information on how to seek help with quitting.

These policies reduced the adult smoking rate in New York City by more than 20 percent, and more impressively, cut the teen smoking rate in half.

That’s hundreds of thousands of fewer smokers, meaning potentially thousands of lives saved and fewer tobacco-related issues with health and productivity.

It’s a lot to take on. But we can make it happen, starting with implementation of statewide smoke-free policies.

These policies have made a positive effect in dozens of communities across the state already, but currently only about a third of Kentuckians are protected by a comprehensive smoke-free workplace ordinance. It’s time to make it 100 percent.

Although there is much amazing work in cancer treatment and research happening here at the UK Markey Cancer Center, the fact is, prevention is always the best cure.

Any steps we can take to avoid damage caused by tobacco use is a step toward creating a brighter, healthier future for generations of Kentuckians.