CHARLESTON (AP) - West Virginia's adult smoking rate has not declined significantly in nearly two decades, and a new study says drastic changes in policy and community engagement will be needed to address the issue.
West Virginia's daily adult smoking rate did not fall below 20 percent of the population between 1995 and 2010. During the same period, smoking rates in Virginia and Pennsylvania dropped below 15 percent. Rates in Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee fell below 20 percent, according to the study published in the July-August issue of the West Virginia Medical Journal.
Between 2005 and 2010, West Virginia's rate increased to nearly the level recorded in 1995, the study said.
"As Appalachia, we wanted to look at it from not just a county but a state perspective and see if we have certain funding and certain smoking rates, and you look at states around us, their funding and their tobacco rates, whether our programs are as effective," Dr. Rahul Gupta, chief health officer of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, and a co-author of the study, said. "Are the policies we have working, or can they be better tweaked?"
All 55 counties have some form of Clean Indoor Air Act. But only 27 counties ban smoking inside all public facilities, Bruce Adkins, director of the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health's Division of Tobacco Prevention, told the newspaper.
Gupta said that the difference between West Virginia and many other states lies in aggressive anti-smoking marketing and comprehensive smoking-cessation campaigns.
"Having a comprehensive tobacco control policy is quite significant," he said. "The recommendations from (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's) Best Practices is out there; the question is, 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?"
Nearly 4,000 West Virginians die each year from diseases caused by tobacco, according to the state's Department of Health and Human Resources.
Adkins said states that have raised tobacco taxes have seen a reduction in tobacco use. West Virginia has not raised its tax on a pack of cigarettes, which is 55 cents, since 2003. Pennsylvania's tax is $1.60 per pack, while Ohio's tax is $1.25.