Poll: Kentucky smokers cut back after cigarette tax hike

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WTVQ) – Half of Kentucky’s adult smokers say they smoked fewer cigarettes, or that they considered or tried to quit smoking, following the cigarette excise tax increase that went into effect July 1, 2018.

“The cigarette tax increase is changing thinking and behavior about smoking in Kentucky,” said Ben Chandler, president and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, which released a Kentucky Health Issues Poll (KHIP) report about the impact of the tax increase today. KHIP is an annual telephone poll of Kentucky adults funded jointly by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky and Interact for Health.

The KHIP report found that 39 percent of Kentucky smokers cut back the number of cigarettes they smoked, 33 percent considered quitting, and 26 percent actually tried to quit because of the cigarette price increase.

The report also found that Kentucky adult use of both cigarettes and e-cigarettes remains much higher in Kentucky than the national average.

Chandler chairs the Coalition for a Smoke-Free Tomorrow, a group of 180 Kentucky businesses, advocacy groups, health care companies and other organizations working to improve health by reducing tobacco use and secondhand smoke exposure in Kentucky. The Coalition led the campaign during the 2018 legislative session to increase the cigarette tax by $1 per pack.

“We knew we wouldn’t get all the health benefits we sought when the legislature opted for 50 cents instead of a dollar and decided to exempt e-cigarettes completely, but we hoped it would have some positive effect … this poll shows it did,” Chandler said. “We’ve also amped up our efforts to encourage Kentuckians to quit and we’ll keep on advocating for policies and funding to help them do just that. Meanwhile, congratulations to those who have taken the opportunity to quit. Quitting smoking is one of the most beneficial steps individuals can take to improve their own health, and reducing tobacco use is the single most impactful thing the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky can do to improve health in the Commonwealth.”

For information and assistance in quitting smoking, call 1-800-QUIT-NOW or visit https://quitnowkentucky.org.

Kentucky Adult E-Cig Use Nearly Triple the National Rate
The poll also found that 24 percent of Kentucky adults have tried e-cigarettes, about the same as in 2016 when KHIP first included the question. A third of those who’ve tried e-cigs now use them regularly – that’s about 8 percent of the total Kentucky adult population. Nationally in 2017, just 3 percent of adults currently use e-cigarettes. E-cigarette use held steady among most Kentucky adult age groups over the past two years, except those 18 to 29 (43 percent of Kentucky’s young adults tried e-cigarettes in 2018, six percentage points higher than the 37 percent who had tried them in 2016, but down five percentage points from 48 percent in 2017).

“Any increase in young adult e-cig use is of particular concern, because most tobacco habits are formed prior to age 21 and, nationally, we’re seeing a huge upsurge in teen and young adult e-cigarette use,” said Dr. Pat Withrow, a cardiologist with Baptist Health Paducah who also is a member of the Foundation’s Community Advisory Council. As outreach director for the Paducah hospital, Withrow takes his giant cigarette and Juul brand e-cigarette models with him on road trips to schools throughout Western Kentucky to spread the word about the dangers of both traditional, combustible cigarettes and now e-cigarettes for youth.

“Teens and adolescents refer to it as ‘juuling’ rather than smoking or vaping,” Withrow said. “And kids think e-cigs are nicotine-free and perfectly safe. But that’s not true. Moreover, multiple studies now show they’re a gateway to smoking cigarettes. Unless we get it into the heads of kids that these are highly addictive tobacco products and flat-out unsafe for them to use, the explosion in teen e-cig use is going to translate into an equivalent upsurge in adult tobacco use in the very near future.”

The most recent CDC data regarding youth e-cigarette use is available here.

Kentucky Adult Smoking Outpaces National Rate by 35 percent
Nearly one in four (23 percent) of Kentucky adults smoke, according to the poll. The highest rates are among lower-income adults; 35 percent of those earning incomes 138 percent or less of Federal Poverty Guidelines said they currently smoked cigarettes, compared to 16 percent of those with higher incomes. Nationally, the adult smoking rate is 17 percent, 26 percent lower than Kentucky’s adult smoking rate.

Smokers of Menthol Cigarettes Face Flavor Ban
Twenty-eight percent of Kentucky adult smokers use menthol-flavored cigarettes, according to the KHIP report. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed banning menthol cigarettes and cigars, in part because of their popularity among youth (the FDA also has proposed prohibiting all flavors in cigars). Nationwide, according to the FDA, 54 percent of smokers ages 12-17 use menthol, compared to fewer than a third of smokers 35 and older. Seven in 10 African-American youth smokers use menthol, as well, the FDA says, adding that youth and adults who first tried a menthol products are more likely to become smokers.

“The Foundation supports measures such as bans on flavors that entice people who otherwise wouldn’t try tobacco products and that lead them to a lifetime of nicotine addiction,” Chandler said.

A copy of the KHIP report, Cigarettes, E-Cigarettes and the 2018 Kentucky Tobacco Tax Increase is available here.

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