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Editorial: Too many lives, too much money go up in smoke

Jan. 19, 2013 @ 11:01 PM

When it comes to policies and funding aimed at protecting their residents from death and disease caused by tobacco use, West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky have done poorly, according to the American Lung Association.

Both West Virginia and Kentucky received grades of "F" in all four measures used in the association's "State of Tobacco Control" report released last week, while Ohio did only slightly better, receiving two grades of "F," one "D" and one "A." The four metrics used in the report included how much money was spent on prevention efforts, the level of smoking restrictions in state law, the rate at which tobacco products are taxed, and extent of insurance coverage for tobacco cessation programs.

The states' poor performance on those factors may well help explain why Kentucky and West Virginia have the highest smoking rates for adults in the nation, while Ohio isn't too far behind. In each of those states, a quarter or more of adults smoke, according to the ALA's report, and about a fifth of high school students use tobacco.

The consequences are significant, both in lives and in costs, the lung association contends. The report said that deaths attributed to smoking in West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio totaled more than 30,000, with about 3,800 of those in West Virginia. The economic toll, including health-care costs and lost productivity, was more than $14 billion combined in the three states last year, the report said.

While the lung association rated each of the three states poorly, it did acknowledge local governments have taken steps to combat the effects of smoking. The report also graded counties on steps they have taken to control tobacco use. Twenty of West Virginia's 55 counties received an "A," including Cabell, where smoking in public establishments has been banned. Wayne was among the 19 counties scoring a "B," while Putnam County was one of six counties to receive an "F."

The efforts of those counties that have imposed restrictions on smoking have made a difference for the general public's exposure to smoke. But considering the high smoking rates that still exist, it's clear that officials in our three states should do more.

West Virginia and Kentucky have no provisions in state law to ban smoking in private workplaces and bars and restaurants. Ohio state government spends none of its own money on tobacco control programs. All fall short in requiring better insurance coverage for cessation programs. And none of the three make the grade regarding the level of the tobacco tax. Raising cigarette taxes has been shown to be a deterrent to smoking, particularly among youth.

Relying on local governments to take the lead on smoking restrictions still leaves residents in many counties unprotected. State officials should show the gumption to do what many local officials already have, and take stronger steps to discourage tobacco use and protect non-smokers from tobacco's ill effects.



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