As the bill for a statewide smoking ban lies on its deathbed in the General Assembly, new federal data show Kentucky still has the highest percentage of smokers (29 percent) of any state, leads the nation in the share of smoking high school students (24 percent) and spends only a miniscule portion of their tobacco revenues to fight tobacco use. Those figures come from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Tobacco Control State Highlights 2012 report. (For county-by-county figures, click here.)
The lack of a statewide smoking ban, which nevertheless has become popular among Kentuckians, represents only a small part of the struggle to address Kentuckians' tobacco use and resulting health problems. Kentucky's program to discourage tobacco use has been severely underfunded for years, contributing to the state's lack of or slow progress in reducing its smoking and tobacco use rates and subsequent health problems, said Dr. Ellen Hahn, director of the Kentucky Center for Smoke-Free Policy at the University of Kentucky.
The CDC says Kentucky should spend $57.2 million a year to have an effective, comprehensive tobacco-prevention program, but the state allocates only $2.1 million a year to such programs -- 3.7 percent of the recommended amount.
By another measure, the amount is only 0.6 percent of the estimated $381 million the state gets from tobacco taxes and the 1998 national settlement with cigarette manufacturers, according to a tobacco settlement report.
Meanwhile, Kentucky's health-care costs attributable to smoking add up to about $1.5 billion a year, and smoking-caused productivity losses total $2.3 billion a year. These amounts do not include health costs caused by exposure to secondhand smoke, smoking-caused fires, smokeless tobacco use or cigar and pipe smoking.
Despite the known health risks that tobacco use poses, smoking in Kentucky remains a part of everyday life in most places. But that is increasingly less so around the country, so there is an increasing gap between heavy-smoking and low-smoking states; smoking in Kentucky is about twice as prevalent as in Utah and California, reports Steven Reinberg of HealthDay. Click here for an interactive map of states' tobacco prevention efforts.
There are proven, multi-pronged strategies to curb smoking. They include combinations of higher tobacco taxes, smoke-free laws, media campaigns, and restricted access to tobacco products. However, Kentucky continues to lag behind other states due to "stagnant policies" and a lack of funding, said Hahn. Many other factors contribute to Kentucky's lack of tobacco-prevention progress. By failing to substantially reduce adult smoking, the state misses opportunities to encourage younger adults and children not to smoke, Hahn said. Kentucky needs to employ strategies that communicate the success and affordability of tobacco cessation programs, she said people often lack the encouragement to quit smoking because they don't know how or they don't believe it is possible. The latest tobacco report is a timely reminder to that tobacco use remains a huge public health problem for Kentucky and there are proven strategies that, if implemented, could help Kentuckians live a healthier, tobacco-free life.
Kentucky Health News is an independent news service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.