Smoking Rate in U.S. Drops to 15 percent

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KENTUCKY NEW ERA | LAUREN DUNCAN | SEPTEMBER 4, 2015

The national smoking rate among adults has reached an all-time low since anti-smoking efforts began decades ago, according to a report this week from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Health leaders aren’t sure what that means for Kentucky, though, where tobacco use is much higher than most states.

The CDC report said 15.2 percent of adults were considered smokers in the first quarter of this year. That’s down from 16.8 percent in 2014.

Thomas Carr, director of national policy for the American Lung Association, emphasized that the CDC survey only shows preliminary numbers for the first quarter of this year.

“This is preliminary data for 2015 so we don’t know for sure if it’s going to stay the same once we get the other three parts of the year in place,” Carr said. “But it’s encouraging. It’s a significant decrease.”

Though the latest survey doesn’t break down smoking rates by states, the CDC’s most recent reports on state smoking rates put Kentucky in the top two.

In 2011, 29 percent of Kentuckians smoked cigarettes, which was the highest rate in the nation. That figure dropped to 26.5 percent in 2013, which put Kentucky in second place behind West Virginia, which had a rate of 27.3 percent adult smokers in 2013.

Health leaders have attributed the national decline to a variety of factors, including aggressive anti-smoking campaigns and smoke-free laws. Carr said increased taxes, prices of tobacco products and increased funding for anti-tobacco programs have also figured into the decline.

But he said statewide smoking bans are likely the greatest deterrent.

Kentucky is one of 22 states that still permit smoking in indoor and public places, although many cities across the state have passed city-wide bans. Last spring, the General Assembly considered legislation to enact a statewide ban. It passed in the House but never came for a vote in the Senate.

“Public policy is probably the biggest (factor),” Carr said. “Unfortunately, Kentucky has missed out on that. A statewide bill would have been an important step forward for Kentucky.”

Patricia Volz, vice president of communications at the American Lung Association of the Midland States, which covers Kentucky, said the organization has been hoping for a Kentucky smoking ban, but there’s less support for a ban in the commonwealth, due in part to the state’s economic dependency on the tobacco industry.

“Kentucky certainly approaches the tobacco issue differently than some of the other parts of the country,” Volz said.

“It’s a very important issue for public health within your state. We’ve been doing a lot of work over the years on smoke-free Kentucky, trying to get a statewide smoking ban in place,” Volz said. “We’ve come close. Maybe we’ll make it.”

Carr pointed out that adult smoking rates could decline in Kentucky in the future if youth rates remain low. In 2014, a survey found that 17.9 percent of Kentucky high school students smoked cigarettes, which was down from 24.1 percent in 2011.

“If the number stays the same for high school, that’s pretty encouraging,” Carr said.

The national smoking rate has dramatically fallen over recent decades. In 1965, 42 percent of adults smoked.

Kent Koster, public health director of the Purchase District Health Department that covers Ballard, Carlisle, Fulton, Hickman and McCracken counties, said despite the relatively high rate of smoking in Kentucky, the habit seems to be decreasing.

“I certainly think that smoking is decreasing every day,” Koster said. “As more and more people become aware of the hazards of smoking, it’s not popular to smoke any longer. You’re seeing more people really focusing on their health.”

The new CDC report showed that 17 percent of men now smoke compared with 13 percent of women.

Koster said the health department has focused its efforts to reduce smoking among pregnant women. He thinks it’s just a matter of time before smoking rates drop in Kentucky.

“It’s a downward trend. We know it’s going to keep going down,” he said. “Nothing is supporting tobacco anymore. Everything is against it.”

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