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Can Ohio Secede from "Tobacco Nation?"

In the states collectively known as "Tobacco Nation," more than 1 in 5 adults lights up about 500 more cigarettes a year than the average smoker in the rest of the country. (Truth Initiative)
In the states collectively known as "Tobacco Nation," more than 1 in 5 adults lights up about 500 more cigarettes a year than the average smoker in the rest of the country. (Truth Initiative)
October 12, 2017

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Ohio is part of a "Tobacco Nation," a nickname for the dozen states where smoking rates are the highest in the country.

A new report from the Truth Initiative, a group established as part of the 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement, highlights the swath of contiguous states that is bucking the national trend of a substantial decline in smoking.

Robin Koval, president and CEO of the Truth Initiative, says such a significant portion of the country shouldn't be left behind as national progress is made to curb tobacco use.

"We're talking about 20 percent of the population, 66 million people, 13 million young people,” she points out. “That's the equivalent of the U.K. or France or Thailand, if you were thinking about it almost as if it were its own nation."

The report says 22 percent of adults in "Tobacco Nation" smoke compared to 15 percent in the rest of the U.S., lighting up about 500 more cigarettes each year.

About 1 in 5 Ohio adults smokes regularly.

Research shows the tobacco epidemic has a disproportionate impact on people at lower income levels.

According to the report, "Tobacco Nation" residents aren't as well off financially as the rest of the country, and generally suffer poorer health outcomes.

Koval adds the smoking rates in these states are some of the highest in the world.

"Worse than the Philippines, worse than Indonesia,” she stresses. “And in a country with the best resources – financially, scientifically, health care resources – shame on us, really, for allowing that to happen."

In the past two decades, the report shows the states that make up "Tobacco Nation" have received just over $31 billion in payments from the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement for prevention and control efforts.

But the money is often diverted by state legislatures for other priorities.

Hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths are attributed to tobacco use, and Koval says these states are not doing enough.

"The tobacco industry is a very strong force, still, in our country, spending lots of money on marketing and of course, on lobbyists,” she points out. “And many of these states just don't have the ability to resist all the efforts of the tobacco industry. "

Ohio is one of two "Tobacco Nation" states that the report notes bans smoking in public places.

This collaboration is produced in association with Media in the Public Interest and funded by the George Gund Foundation.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH