Smoking rates fall but poor still at risk

Overall smoking rates among American adults dropped 19.8%, from 20.9% to 16.8% between 2005 and 2014 – the lowest recorded rate – according to a CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report published on November 13. Additionally, “cigarette smoking was significantly lower in 2014 (16.8%) than in 2013 (17.8%),” the report said. The war on smoking has been a feather in the cap of public healthcare. About 50% of all Americans smoked in the 1960’s – when men were still men – but a 1964 surgeon general warning came on like a no smoking sign in a flight, signaling the end of the golden era of cigarettes. The report lists “tobacco price increases, comprehensive smoke-free laws, high impact mass media campaigns, and barrier-free access to quitting assistance” as “proven population-based interventions … critical to reduce cigarette smoking and smoking-related disease and death among U.S. adults.”

However, as the smoke clears we see that the numbers shed light on class differences. “Disparities are the single most important issue in smoking,” professor of public health at the University of Michigan School of Public Health Kenneth E. Warner said. ““The people who are politically influential believe the smoking problem has been solved. It’s not in their neighborhoods. Their friends don’t smoke. Those who still smoke are the poor, the disenfranchised, the mentally ill. That’s who we need to focus on.” In fact, and according to the report, “higher smoking prevalences were reported among persons insured by Medicaid only (29.1%; 5.5 million) and persons who were uninsured (27.9%; 8.8 million) than among persons insured by private health insurance (12.9%; 19.6 million) or Medicare only (12.5%; 2.3 million)” in 2014. So maybe god does bless the poor. “Prevalence also was higher among lesbian, gay, or bisexual adults (23.9%) than among straight adults,” proving to Westboro Baptists Church fanatics that god does not in fact hate homosexuals.

 Anti-smokers remain optimist, though. “Our tremendous progress shows that we know how to win the fight against tobacco. Proven solutions must be fully implemented across the nation, including higher tobacco taxes, strong smoke-free laws, well-funded tobacco prevention and cessation programs that include mass media campaigns, and comprehensive, barrier-free health insurance coverage for smoking cessation treatments,” president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids Matthew Myers said. “After stalling in the mid-2000s, adult and youth smoking rates began declining again after the federal cigarette tax was increased by 62 cents in 2009. Significant additional increases in federal and state cigarette taxes can further drive down smoking rates.”

“Tobacco smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States, resulting in approximately 480,000 premature deaths and more than $300 billion in direct health care expenditures and productivity losses each year,” the report says. CDC director Tom Frieden added in a statement that “smoking kills half a million Americans each year. This report shows real progress helping American smokers quit and that more progress is possible.”  The report concludes that “implementation of comprehensive tobacco control interventions can result in substantial reductions in tobacco-related morbidity and mortality and billions of dollars in savings from averted medical costs. Additionally, states can work with health care systems, insurers, and purchasers of health insurance to improve coverage and utilization of tobacco cessation treatments and to implement health systems changes that make tobacco dependence treatment a standard of clinical care.”

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