Smoking remains costly, dirty and deadly


The American Lung Association’s “State of Tobacco Control 2014” report issued recently held that Arkansas has made no progress this past year in reducing tobacco-caused death and disease.

That’s bad news considering that smoking rates have declined overall in the 50 years since the first Surgeon General’s report on smoking and health.

“Despite strides in reducing smoking rates in America by half in the last 50 years, tobacco remains the leading cause of preventable death and illness in the U.S., including lung cancer, the No. 1 killer of both men and women in America,” stated Jennifer Cofer, interim CEO of the American Lung Association in the Plains Gulf Region in news releases last week.

The American Lung Association put the annual smoking-related deaths in Arkansas at 4,915, with a cost of $2.27 billion in health care and lost productivity.

The American Lung Association has aggressive long- and short-term goals, among them to cut smoking rates from 18 percent to 10 percent in the next 10 years; to protect all Americans from second-hand smoke within the next five years; and to eliminate the death and disease caused by tobacco use.

Those are easy goals to endorse.

We know too many young people smoke.

According to the Surgeon General’s website, for each of the 1,200 people in this country who die each day from smoking-related causes, at least two adolescents or young adults will become regular smokers. That’s every day. And that’s despite success in reducing youth tobacco rates made between 1997 and 2003.

Today the numbers of young people using tobacco again are on the rise in some groups. Among the dangerous trends, one out of five high school boys smokes cigars. Some young people take their tobacco in any form available: cigars, cigarettes, smokeless tobacco.

We know too many women smoke.

According to the American Cancer Society, in 2011 more than one American woman in six, 18 or older, smoked cigarettes. Along ethnic lines, American Indian/Alaska Native women smoked at the highest rate, 29 percent, and Asian women smoked at the lowest rate, 5.5 percent. Of special concern is the note that younger women smoke at a higher rate than older women.

Most women who smoke start before they are 18, and the younger the girl starts, the more heavily she is likely to use tobaccos as an adult, according to the ACS.

We know too many men smoke.

Men who smoke increase their risk of dying from bronchitis by nearly 10 times, from emphysema nearly 10 times and from lung cancer nearly 22 times, according to information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And the big killer: Smoking triples middle-aged men’s risk of dying from heart disease. And it doesn’t just happen to middle-aged men.

According to SurgeonGeneral.gov, most young smokers have cardiovascular damage, and those most sensitive to it will die “very young.”

Teens also seem to be especially vulnerable to the addictive quality of nicotine. Three out of four will never quit, and among those who persist in smoking, one-third will die prematurely from smoking.

Nine out of 10 smokers start before they are 18, and 99 out of 100 before they are 26. Clearly prevention efforts need to be targeted to teens — for more than six years. As long as smoking remains as visible a part of society as it is, we cannot let up on efforts to keep young people from starting.

For those who already are hooked, whatever their age, we need better cessation programs and treatments and better access to them.

When states the size of Arkansas start seeing annual costs in the billions of dollars, it’s not just time to notice; it’s time to act, consistently, purposefully and effectively. We can’t afford not to.

Southwest Times Record