The American Lung Association’s latest health disparity report, “Cutting Tobacco’s Rural Roots: Tobacco Use in Rural Communities,” examines tobacco addiction and exposure to secondhand smoke in rural America, particularly among rural youth.
Tobacco use is higher in rural communities than in suburban and urban communities, and smokeless tobacco use is shockingly twice as common. Rural youth are more likely to use tobacco and to start earlier than urban youth, perpetuating the cycle of tobacco addiction and death and disease.
“Tobacco use is often more socially acceptable in rural areas, making it more likely that kids living in these communities will also start to use tobacco,” said Deb Brown, president and CEO of the American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic, which includes West Virginia. “Community leaders and residents in our rural areas need to take a stand against the culture of tobacco use as part of life and empower our future generations to have healthy, tobacco-free lives.”
There are a number of environmental and social factors that contribute to this generational cycle of tobacco use among youth and adults in rural America.
Increased tobacco use is associated with lower education levels and lower income, which are both common in rural areas where there may be fewer opportunities for educational and economic advancement. Exposure to secondhand smoke is also higher as rural communities are less likely to have smokefree air laws in place and residents are less likely to refuse to allow smoking in their homes or other indoor places.
For decades, the tobacco industry has used rural imagery, such as the Marlboro Man, to promote its products and appeal to rural audiences. Over the past several years, the tobacco industry’s marketing of smokeless tobacco products has skyrocketed. Sadly as the tobacco industry spends millions of dollars targeting rural youth, these youth are less likely to be exposed to tobacco counter-marketing campaigns.Rural tobacco users are also less likely to have access to tobacco cessation programs and services to get the help they need to quit.
Many rural states have low tobacco taxes.Raising tobacco prices is a proven strategy to reduce tobacco use.In West Virginia, however, the tobacco tax is 55 cents, which is lower than the current average state cigarette tax of $1.46 per pack.Promotion of the availability of state quit-smoking counseling services by phone and online resources also lags.
The American Lung Association in West Virginia is calling on government agencies, the research and funding community, health systems and insurers, community leaders, schools and families to take steps now to cut tobacco’s rural roots. “The rural community clearly requires special attention if we hope to end the epidemic of tobacco use in this country. We must all work together as neighbors to overcome this health disparity,” said Kimberly Horn, Ed. D., Associate Dean of Research, The George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services.
The American Lung Association offers smoking cessation resources to help people quit smoking for good. In West Virginia, 26.8 percent of the total adult population smokes and overall, 51.3 percent lives in rural areas:
Freedom From Smoking® is a program that teaches the skills and techniques that have been proven to help hundreds of thousands of adults quit smoking. Freedom From Smoking is available as a group clinic, an online program and a self-help book.
Not-On-Tobacco® (N-O-T) is a group program designed to help 14 to 19 year old smokers end their addiction to nicotine. The curriculum consists of ten 50-minute sessions that typically occur once a week for 10 weeks.
The Lung HelpLine, 1-800-LUNG-USA, offers one-on-one support from registered nurses and respiratory therapists. Individuals have the opportunity to seek guidance on lung health and find out how to participate in and join the Lung Association smoking cessation programs.
In addition to expanding the Lung Association’s capability to provide its programs and services to the rural community, there are also several other action steps to reduce rural tobacco use.These steps are detailed in the full report, and include that state and federal tobacco control programs must make a concerted effort and dedicate funding to reach rural communities; the research community should focus attention and resources on identifying effective cessation treatments for smokeless tobacco use; and school, health and employment systems in rural areas must all implement effective tobacco control strategies including smokefree air policies and access to cessation services.
This report is part of the Lung Association’s Disparities in Lung Health Series. For more information, please contact Deb Brown at (610) 563-6992. To download a copy of the report, visit: www.lung.org/rural-tobacco-use.