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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