West Virginia has one of the nation’s worst smoking problems.
But state government has been reluctant to take aggressive steps to reduce tobacco use, and we are paying a high price in both poor health and public health costs.
That needs to change.
The facts and figures were thoroughly outlined this summer in an article in the West Virginia Medical Journal. The state has the nation’s second highest percentage of current smokers, and while the smoking rates in other states have declined, the Mountain State keeps right on puffing away.
When you look at the number of people who smoke every day, the difference is dramatic.
Between 1995 and 2010, the national rate of daily smokers declined from 20 percent to 12.3 percent. Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee all declined to under 20 percent during that same period, and Virginia and Pennsylvania to under 15 percent, the study showed.
Sadly, West Virginia never dropped below 20 percent, and the state’s rate actually increased between 2005-2010 to 23 percent.
A more comprehensive approach to tobacco policies would help, one of the authors of the study told the Charleston Gazette last week.
“The recommendations from (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s) Best Practices are out there,” Dr. Rahul Gupta, chief health officer of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department said. “Do we pick and choose from those or look at it more comprehensively and try to apply those in a comprehensive state tobacco control program?”
So what does the legislature need to do?
Implement a statewide indoor air law. Currently, the rules vary from county to county, and only 27 of the state’s 55 counties ban smoking inside all public facilities.
Raise the tobacco tax. At 55 cents per pack, West Virginia has one of the lowest tobacco taxation rates in the country.
Ramp up marketing and smoking-cessation assistance. The CDC recommends that West Virginia should be spending more than $27 million a year on tobacco prevention and control efforts. The state now spends a little more than $7 million.
Continuing on the same path makes no sense. Not only does the state have a high rate of deaths attributed to smoking, but the lost productivity and other related health-care costs run into the billions each year.
It is time to get serious about reducing tobacco use in West Virginia.
— Herald-Dispatch, Huntington