Kick the Habit

W.Va. making slow progress on smoking

We have known for decades that smoking can cause cancer, heart disease and a variety of other illnesses. Yet many Americans still have not kicked the habit.

Here in West Virginia, the concern is particularly worrisome. The Mountain State has the highest rate of adult smokers in the nation. Ohio is not far behind — and the problem is getting worse, not better.

About 18.1 percent of American adults smoked last year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In contrast, the percentage was 24.8 in West Virginia, by far the worst in the United States (Kentucky, at 24.5 percent, was not far behind).

At least some Mountain State residents are finding ways to kick the habit (or, no doubt, are dying and dropping out of the CDC’s survey pool). In 2015, the state’s adult smoking rate was 26.7 percent. So we are making some progress.

What to do about the problem?

High taxes on tobacco products do not appear to correlate strongly with smoking. West Virginia charges $1.20 per pack of cigarettes. Ohio’s tax is $1.60. But Utah, close to Ohio at $1.70, has the lowest adult smoking rate in the nation, at 8.8 percent.

What about educating young people?

Though CDC results for Ohio make it difficult to judge how well tobacco education works there, there is substantial data for West Virginia. It is not encouraging.

Last year, according to a CDC survey of high school students, 14.4 percent of them in the Mountain State smoked cigarettes. That compares to 8.8 percent nationally.

That may hold the key to reducing tobacco use in West Virginia. Obviously, we are not doing a very good job of steering young people away from it. We simply have to do better.