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High Smoking Rates Make WV Part of "Tobacco Nation"

In the states collectively known as "Tobacco Nation," more than 1 in 5 adults light up about 500 more cigarettes a year than the average smoker in the rest of the country. (Pixabay)
In the states collectively known as "Tobacco Nation," more than 1 in 5 adults light up about 500 more cigarettes a year than the average smoker in the rest of the country. (Pixabay)
October 13, 2017

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – West Virginia 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, highlights the swath of contiguous states that are 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 says. "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 one in four Hoosier adults smoke 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 adds. "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 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 explains. "And many of these states just don't have the ability to resist all the efforts of the tobacco industry."

Last year, West Virginia increased its tobacco taxes. The American Heart and Lung Associations say that may help lower the state's high smoking rate.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV