Smoking persists or even increases in poor, rural, working-class counties; New York Times cites Clay County as an example

Clay County has a dubious distinction. It has the highest rate of smoking for any U.S. county with a population under 15,000. Researchers at the University of Washington pointed that out, and The New York Times focused on it in reporting the larger finding: Some poor, rural and working-class counties have increasingly high rates of
smoking, while the smoking rates in wealthy counties continue to
decline.

Ed Smith Jr.
(NYT photo by Tim Harris)

In Clay County, the smoking rate was 36.7
percent in 2012. “It’s just what we do here,” Ed Smith Jr., 51, told the Times, which reports, “Several of his friends have died of lung cancer, and he has tried to quit, but so far has not succeeded.” (Institute for Health and Metrics map shows adult smoking rates by county; Clay and Knox counties are the red area in southeastern Kentucky. The interactive map shows how rates have changed since 1996, overall and among men and women. To view it, click here.)

The smoking rate among adults has decreased 27 percent since 1997, but only 15 percent among poor people, and haven’t changed at all for adult smokers living in deep poverty in the South and Midwest, the study found. “The findings
are particularly stark for women,” Sabrina Tavernise and Robert Gebeloff write. “About half of all high-income counties
showed significant declines in the smoking rate for women, but only 4
percent of poor counties did.” Education also plays a role. “Americans with a high-school education
or less make up 40 percent of the
population, but they account for 55 percent of the nation’s 42 million
smokers.”

Clay County is one of the nation’s poorest, and only 7 percent of its people have a college degree. The county seat, Manchester, passed an indoor smoking ban in 2012, and Manchester Memorial Hospital “runs a smoking-cessation program that offers free nicotine patches and gum in an effort to reach low-income smokers,” the Times reports. “Smoking cessation is our biggest uphill battle,” Jeremy Hacker, the hospital’s community outreach coordinator, told the newspaper. Smoking is no longer a normal activity in urban places, he said, but in Clay, “It’s not viewed as a problem.” (Read more)

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