Where Tobacco Is King

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Q: Where does Oklahoma rank nationally in rates of tobacco use, and why?

A: In terms of smoking, the state ranks third highest nationally, according to the federal government’s website, smokefree.gov, last updated in April 2011. Among Oklahoma adults, 25.4 percent smoke, slightly less than rates for Kentucky, 25.6 percent, and West Virginia, 25.5 percent. Utah has the lowest smoking rate, at 9.8 percent, followed by California, 12.8 percent.

Asked why Oklahomans smoke more, Leslea Bennett-Webb, director of communications for the Oklahoma State Department of Health, said, “That is the age-old question.” A primary reason is a “cultural acceptance” of smoking in Oklahoma, particularly in places outside the Oklahoma City and Tulsa areas. Another reason is “contributions the tobacco industry has made (to politicians), assuring there isn’t a climate change (about smoking) in Oklahoma,” she said. That was evident when tobacco-industry lobbyists helped kill a bill recently that would have allowed cities to pass smoking restrictions stricter than the state’s.

The results are grim for many people. Oklahoma ranks eighth nationally in rates of lung-cancer deaths, with 60.8 per 100,000 population in 2009, or 2,444 people, according to  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

There are some bright spots. “We now have more former smokers in the state than current smokers,” Bennett-Webb said. And there are more ways than ever to quit.

The problem is, “Oklahoma’s smokers aren’t quitting their habit as quickly as other smokers in other states,” she said.