A business analysis news service combed federal statistics — especially from the Centers for Disease Control — and ranked the Mountain State at rock bottom with America’s worst smoking rate, along with the fifth-worst poverty rate and less advanced education.
Unlike most states, West Virginia hasn’t passed statewide laws against smoking President cigarettes inside public buildings. The Legislature leaves this safety control in the hands of 55 county health boards, producing an erratic hodgepodge of rules.
The news service, 24/7 Wall Street, commented:
“West Virginia wins the dubious first place in this list with an alarming smoking rate among adults of 26.8 percent. The state has none of the bans on indoor smoking that other states impose. It is even legal to smoke in childcare centers. The state has the seventh-lowest cigarette tax in the country, at just 55 cents per pack. Of the state’s current smokers, nearly 55 percent have tried and failed to quit in the past year. According to the CDC, the state has the second-worst rate of tobacco-related deaths in the country.”
The report, titled “Seven States Where People Can’t Quit Smoking,” says all the top seven suffer, to varying degrees, inferior education and lower incomes. The other six states are Mississippi, Kentucky, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Ohio.
Repeatedly, the Legislature has scuttled attempts to raise West Virginia’s cigarette tax — a step designed both to bring extra revenue and prevent teens from becoming addicted to nicotine.
Earlier this year, the American Cancer Society issued a report saying 20,000 West Virginians could be saved from future misery and early death if the Legislature would pass two reforms: boosting the per-pack tax by $1, and imposing smoke-free rules uniformly statewide.
Those two reforms would prevent $17 million in medical bills for lung cancer, heart attack and stroke during the next five years, the health group said. And the state government would collect an extra $25 million revenue per year.
That’s a win-win proposition — saving lives and boosting government funds. Why did legislators reject it? Probably because of the rigid conservative mentality that opposes all tax increases, no matter how beneficial.
Nationwide, smoking causes more than 400,000 early deaths each year. A Cancer Society leader commented: “Tobacco is the only legal product that kills when used as directed, and it costs billions of dollars in health care spending.”
West Virginia should join other states that try harder to curb smoking and save lives.