A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Report: Failure by southern legislators on tobacco policies leads to higher tobacco use, cancer rate

State legislatures in Kentucky and 11 other Southern states are contributing to the region’s increased cancer burden by failing to implement evidence-based policies to reduce and prevent tobacco use, according to a report released by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN).

The result of this inaction has led to some of the highest tobacco use rates in the country and contributed to cancer death rates that are significantly above the national average.

The report, How Do You Measure Up?, shows that Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia failed to earn a single “green” rating in any of the three critical tobacco control measures.

This means that the states have failed to pass legislation which have proven to protect adults and youth from the leading preventable cause of death in the country.

More than 34 percent of cancer cases in Kentucky are a direct result of cigarette smoking, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). Given this, the state’s biggest opportunity to save lives and reduce health care costs would be increasing the price of cigarettes by $1.50 or more per pack.

“Kentucky’s excise tax on cigarettes hasn’t been increased since 2009 and ranks 43rd in the country,” said Erica Palmer Smith, government relations director for ACS CAN in Kentucky. “The time has come for our elected officials to recognize that a significant increase to the tobacco tax would not only lower tobacco-use rates but also have the added benefit of saving the state millions of dollars in health care costs.”

Based on data from the National Vital Statistics System from 2010 to 2014, the lung cancer mortality rate in the 12 Southern states combined is about 20 percent higher than it is in the rest of the country. According to ACS, cigarette smoking causes more than 25 percent of cancer deaths in every state and up to 40 percent of cancer deaths in men in several Southern states.

“Tobacco control policies are an effective public health tool that have been sorely underutilized, especially in the South,” said Cathy Callaway, director of state and local campaigns for ACS CAN. “It will be impossible for the country to address the tobacco-related cancer burden unless all states, especially those in the South, take a far more active role in implementing policies that will discourage the use of tobacco products.”

Research has proven there are evidenced-based policy solutions which can reduce the use of tobacco products. These solutions include increasing the price of tobacco through regular and significant tobacco tax increases, implementing comprehensive smoke-free policies and fully funding and implementing statewide tobacco prevention and cessation programs in accordance with best practice recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The average cigarette tax in the Southern U.S. is only 75 cents per pack, which is nearly a dollar less than the national average of $1.69 per pack. And, none of the 12 states has a tax above the national average.

Additional analysis on the tobacco burden in the Southern states reveals:

— Based on data from 2010-2014, 11 of the 12 Southern states have a cancer mortality rate above the national average (166.1 per 100,000), including six with the highest rates in the country – Kentucky (201.5), Mississippi (197.3), West Virginia (194.5), Louisiana (191.0), Arkansas (189.2), and Tennessee (188.2).

— Nearly one-third (31 percent) of lung cancer cases and deaths in 2017 are projected to occur in the South, despite the fact only one-quarter of the population lives in the region.

— Ten of the 12 Southern states included in this analysis have adult smoking rates that are higher than the national average (17.5 percent), including four with the highest rates in the country – Kentucky (26 percent), West Virginia (25.7 percent), Arkansas (24.9 percent), and Mississippi (22.6 percent).

— The percentage of cancer deaths caused by cigarette smoking is above the national average (28.6 percent) in 11 of 12 Southern states, even accounting for more than one-third of total cancer deaths in Kentucky (34 percent) and Arkansas (33.5 percent).

— Annual smoking-related health care costs in the 12 Southern states total $32.38 billion, not including lost productivity due to premature death and exposure to secondhand smoke. (Kentucky spends $1.92 billion annually in tobacco-related health care costs.)

The 12 Southern states are projected to collect nearly $5.3 billion in tobacco revenues in 2017 yet spend only $118.6 million on tobacco prevention programming. (Note: One state – Florida — accounts for more than half — $67.8 million — of the total amount spent on tobacco prevention programming in the South.)

A color-coded system classifies how well a state is doing in each issue. Green shows that a state has adopted evidence-based policies and best practices; yellow indicates moderate movement toward the benchmark and red shows where states are falling short.

How Kentucky Measures Up:

Cigarette Tax Rates Red

Smoke-free Laws Red

Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Program Funding Red

Medicaid Coverage of Tobacco Cessation Services Green

Indoor Tanning Device Use Restrictions Red

Increased Access to Medicaid Green

Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Funding Red

Access to Palliative Care Yellow

Pain Policy Yellow

To view the complete report and details on each state’s grades, visit www.acscan.org.

From American Cancer Society

Related Posts

Leave a Comment