(FRANKFORT, Ky - October 18, 2017) Determined to move Kentucky from its dismal rankings as the nation's worst state for cancer and the second-highest for smoking, a group of health, business and community leaders gathered in the Capitol today to launch the Coalition for a Smoke-Free Tomorrow.
The broad-based statewide alliance will support state and local policy changes to improve Kentucky's health by reducing tobacco use and protecting Kentuckians from secondhand smoke and other tobacco emissions.
Top on the list of those policy initiatives is increasing Kentucky's cigarette tax by at least $1 per pack. According to data compiled by Coalition founding partners American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, this would keep 23,200 youth from becoming adult smokers, lead 29,400 adult smokers to quit, prevent 14,800 of today's youth from dying prematurely, and result in 5,900 fewer smoking-affected pregnancies and births.
According to the Coalition, illnesses related to tobacco use and secondhand smoke cost Kentucky nearly 9,000 lives and $1.92 billion in health care expenditures every year. Nearly $590 million of those annual costs are covered by Medicaid. The tax burden on every household to cover these costs is $1,168 annually. Smoking also costs Kentucky businesses an estimated $2.79 billion annually in lost productivity.
The proposed tobacco tax would raise $266 million in new state revenue, while also reducing Kentucky's health care expenditures and creating a healthier workforce, the partners said. Given Kentucky's current tax rate of 60 cents per pack, the 43rd lowest in the nation, the new rate still would fall below the national average of $1.71 per pack.
"We cannot let Kentucky continue to be the cancer capital of the nation," said Ben Chandler, chair of the Coalition and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky. "Smoking-related cancer and other diseases are completely preventable, and we have the policy tools that both research and practical experience show will move the needle. The good news is that implementing these policies doesn't cost an arm and a leg; it just takes the will of Kentucky's policy leaders who want to improve the Commonwealth's health, quality of life, and ability to attract more jobs."
Coalition partners say they are in the campaign for the long haul to achieve a significant reduction in smoking and tobacco use in Kentucky. They initially will focus on:
- Securing a $1-or-more-per-pack increase in the state cigarette tax, with parallel increases in the tax rates on other tobacco products.
Helping counties and cities enact comprehensive smoke-free ordinances covering all workplaces.
- Educating the public and health care providers about cessation resources and ensuring effective implementation of a new law that requires insurance to pay for tobacco-cessation programs.
- At today's Coalition launch, partners said achieving the initial goals will reduce Kentucky's smoking rate significantly. Kentucky's adult rate, at 24.5 percent is the second highest in the nation (right behind West Virginia, at 24.8 percent), and 62 percent higher than the national average of 15.1 percent. Kentucky's high school youth rate of 16.9 percent is more than double the national average of 8 percent.
In the last 30 years, cancer rates have gone down 20 percent nationwide, but have risen in areas of Kentucky, according to a January 2017 study. Kentucky also has some of the highest rates of heart disease and stroke mortality, both tied to smoking, said Coalition partner American Heart Association/American Stroke Association.
"Health outcomes are complicated by tobacco use, especially for newborns whose mothers were exposed to tobacco smoke while pregnant," said cardiologist Dr. Pat Withrow, director of outreach for Baptist Health Paducah. "These babies are more likely to suffer respiratory infections, ear infections, asthma, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). We must enact policies proven to help these moms quit smoking and reduce their exposure to secondhand smoke - it's critical to their infants' early and life-long health."
The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, another Coalition partner, said 2,900 Kentucky youth start smoking every year.
"Big Tobacco needs replacement smokers, and they target teens," said Jacob Steward, a sophomore at Bourbon County High School. "Making cigarettes more expensive by increasing the tax will prevent teens from starting to smoke. Teens who smoke don't have a lot of money and they will quit smoking while their addiction to nicotine is young. The $1 tobacco tax increase will keep more than 23,000 Kentucky youth from becoming adult smokers. This is a BIG WIN on many levels." Steward is a member of the Students Making A Community Change (SMACC) group working to prevent teen tobacco use and protecting workers from secondhand smoke.
The tax increase and comprehensive smoke-free laws at the city and county levels are pro-business, said Dave Adkisson, president and CEO of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. "The costs of smoking to employers - in extra health care costs and reduced productivity - add up to more than $5,800 per smoking employee each year. That's why an overwhelming majority of Kentucky Chamber of Commerce members support these measures."
"With the task of tax reform looming before the General Assembly in 2018, Governor Bevin has emphasized that all ideas and concepts 'will be on the table,'" said Sen. Ralph Alvarado. "This charge provides a great opportunity to examine all the potential impacts and benefits that a Smoke-Free Tomorrow plan can have on the financial and physical health of our Commonwealth."
The Coalition for a Smoke-Free Tomorrow has launched a website, www.smokefreetomorrow.org, which compiles information about the campaign and tobacco-use reduction policies and programs, as well as a monthly newsletter (sign up here). Leaders of companies and organizations who would like to join the Coalition can do so on the website. For more information, contact Angela Koch, firstname.lastname@example.org, 502-326-2583.
About the Coalition for a Smoke-Free Tomorrow
The Coalition for a Smoke-Free Tomorrow is committed to its mission of improving Kentucky's health by protecting Kentuckians from secondhand smoke and other tobacco emissions, and by reducing the high rate of smoking and tobacco use in the Commonwealth. For more information, please visit www.smokefreetomorrow.org.
Coalition founding partners include the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association, American Lung Association, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, Baptist Health Kentucky, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, Kentucky Center for Smoke-Free Policy, Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, Kentucky Council of Churches, Kentucky Voices for Health, and Kentucky Youth Advocates. Other partners and members of the Coalition represent a broad array of groups including Kentucky business leaders, health advocates, health care providers and payers, educators, and faith community leaders. See entire list on the Coalition website.
Bonnie J. Hackbarth