Emily Rice Published

West Virginia Earns Failing Grades In Tobacco Use

Two hands are seen smoking cigarettes with smoke standing stark against a black background.Victoria Alexandrova/iStockphoto

A new report from the American Lung Association reveals West Virginia has the worst rates of smoking in the nation for adults and high school students.

The 22nd annual report evaluates state and federal policies on actions taken to eliminate tobacco use and recommends preventative tobacco control laws and policies.

“We provide states sort of a report card, just like you would get in school, and for West Virginia’s report card, it was almost exactly straight Fs with one D,” said Aimee VanCleave, advocacy director for the ALA of West Virginia. “So not the kind of report card that anyone would be proud of.”

The report notes the need for policymakers use tobacco settlement money and taxes to reduce tobacco use. l.

“West Virginia policymakers have an opportunity to address high rates of tobacco use by increasing funding for tobacco control, and eliminating punitive use possession,” VanCleave said. “So what that means, in short, is West Virginia receives over $200 million from tobacco settlement payments and tobacco taxes that could be used to help programs that would help people stop using tobacco. But they only extended less than half a million of that funding to tobacco control efforts.”

The report outlines calls to action including increasing funding for tobacco prevention and quit-smoking programs and eliminating punitive youth possession use and purchase laws.

“That’s why we’re urging the governor and the state legislature to address the disproportionately high burden of tobacco use by increasing funding for our tobacco control programs,” VanCleave said. “Then eliminating programs that are not effective, like punitive measures for youth possession, use and purchase laws.”

According to the report, the adult smoking rate in West Virginia is 21 percent, while the high school tobacco use rate is 27 percent, meaning almost a third of high school students are using tobacco.

The report also recommends passing a comprehensive smoke-free law.

“The U.S. Surgeon General has concluded there’s no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke,” VanCleave said. “We know that passing a comprehensive smoke free law would eliminate smoking and all public places and workplaces. So restaurants, bars, casinos, things that will protect workers across the state from exposure to something that we know is deadly and cancer-causing.”

Tobacco use is the leading cause of death in West Virginia, taking an estimated 4,280 state residents each year, according to the ALA.

“It takes the lives of 1000s of state residents every year, VanCleave said. “And the tobacco industry will do absolutely anything to protect their profits at the expense of West Virginia lives. So it’s up to us. And it’s up to the West Virginia legislature in particular, to push forward in our efforts to prevent and reduce tobacco use. So that’s why we’re calling on state policymakers to expand tobacco control funding to address the high rates of tobacco use, including and among young West Virginians.”

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