June Leffler Published

W.Va. Ranks Near Bottom On Smoking Report Card

A woman smokes an electronic cigarette at a store in Miami.

West Virginia has the highest rate of tobacco use of any state. Almost a quarter of all West Virginians smoke cigarettes.

A recent report from the American Lung Association (ALA) says if the state’s tobacco control policies were stronger it could curb the use of tobacco.

A smoking habit is incredibly personal, but research shows that public health programs and policies do curb tobacco use. Taxes that jack up the price of a pack of cigarettes and laws that keep people from smoking in restaurants and workplaces make a difference.

“Increasing tobacco taxes, such as the cigarette tax, and ensuring that tax rates are equalized among all products — that is a proven, effective way to reduce tobacco use,” Molly Pisciottano, Pennsylvania and West Virginia’s director of advocacy for the American Lung Association, said.

The ALA’s 2022 State of Tobacco Control Report gave West Virginia failing grades for low tobacco taxes, a lack of access to cessation services, underfunding tobacco prevention and cessation, and no regulation on flavored products. The state received a D grade for lax indoor smoking laws.

“We fall among Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Georgia, who also received four Fs and one D grade. And then Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Texas scored all Fs in all five categories,” Pisciottano said.

West Virginia’s cigarette tax is $1.20 a pack. That’s 71 cents less than the national average. Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that increasing the cost of cigarettes by 20 percent is associated with 6 percent of adults quitting and 18 percent of teens and younger adults quitting.

Of the more than $200 million West Virginia collects a year through tobacco taxes, less than 1 percent goes back to tobacco prevention and cessation efforts. The CDC recommends states allocate at least 6 percent.

While most West Virginians live in a county with smoke free workplace regulations, even those local ordinances can be lax.

“There are some laws that are outdated and don’t include new products, such as E cigarettes,” Pisciottano said. “[An ordinance] would also have to include all businesses, and not exclude any, such as casinos or private clubs.”

According to the ALA’s most recent State of Lung Cancer Report, West Virginia is second to only Kentucky in the rate of new lung cancer diagnoses. The current age-adjusted rate of new lung cancer cases is 79 for every 100,000 West Virginians. The national average is 58.

Appalachia Health News is a project of West Virginia Public Broadcasting with support from Charleston Area Medical Center and Marshall Health.