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Examiner
  • Lori Boyajian-O'Neill: Helping Missourians quit the habit

  • The State of Missouri has one of the highest rates of cigarette smokers in the United States. Not surprisingly, it has one of the lowest excise taxes on cigarettes. The Missouri Tobacco Quitline attempts to decrease the rates of smokers in Missouri and encourage kids to never start. It is a daunting task. The State of Missouri and smoking, what do you know, T or F?

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  • The State of Missouri has one of the highest rates of cigarette smokers in the United States. Not surprisingly, it has one of the lowest excise taxes on cigarettes. The Missouri Tobacco Quitline attempts to decrease the rates of smokers in Missouri and encourage kids to never start. It is a daunting task. The State of Missouri and smoking, what do you know, T or F?
    1. Missouri ranks 20th among all U.S. states in rates of smokers. F
    2. Missouri state law prohibits smoking in restaurants. F
    3. Missouri state law prohibits smoking in bars. F
    Television watchers of the KC Royals have seen a public service announcement featuring slugger Billy Butler and Gov. Jay Nixon discussing the Missouri program to assist stopping smoking, the Missouri Tobacco Quitline. They are surrounded by kids. The message? Kids, don’t start smoking. Adults, please stop and here is some help, courtesy of the state.
    The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services supports the 1-800-QUIT-NOW (800-784-8669) help line which is available seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Information is also available at http://health.mo.gov/living/wellness/tobacco/smokingandtobacco or http://dss.mo.gov/mhd/participants/pages/quitsmoke.htm. All smokers will get a “quit kit” and professional coaches who help develop an individualized stop smoking plan. For those without insurance and those with MO HeathNet, free nicotine gum and patches may be available.
    According to the Department, over 10,000 Missourians die annually from tobacco-related diseases including obstructive pulmonary disease, lung and other smoking-related cancers, heart disease and stroke. Further, another 1,100 non-smokers die annually from diseases related to second-hand smoke exposure. On average about 30 Missourians die every day from smoking related diseases. The costs to families are immeasurable. The monetary costs to the taxpayers of Missouri are enormous. The State estimates that the costs for care of Missourians with smoking-related diseases exceeds 12 billion annually. This is paid for by everyone: taxpayers, through programs such as Medicaid and Medicare and uninsured; insurers; employers and privately. Nobody escapes the costs.
    According to the CDC, Missouri ranks 11th among all states in rates of smokers. About 21 percent of adults and 18 percent of kids in Missouri smoke. This means that the healthcare and economic burden of smoking will continue into the next generation. About 18 percent of pregnant women in Missouri continue to smoke. In contrast, neighboring Kansas reports 17 percent of adults and 14 percent of youth smoke cigarettes. The state of Utah has the lowest rates of adult smokers, 9.1 percent, with Kentucky (don’t touch my bourbon or my cigarettes) the distinction of being number one (we win!) with nearly 25 percent of adults and 24 percent of kids who are smokers. Like fathers, like sons, literally.
    High excise taxes are shown to be directly related to rates of cigarette smokers. Many public health experts point to Missouri’s very low excise tax on a pack of cigarettes, 17 cents, as one of the reasons for the high rate of smokers. Kansas’ tax is 79 cents and Arkansas’ $1.15. New York, $4.35 and Connecticut $3.40, are the highest in the country, which, in part, explains why their rates of adult smokers are 15.5 percent and 13.2 percent respectively.
    Page 2 of 2 - Laws and ordinances which restrict smoking have been shown to be an effective approach to decreasing rates of smokers. Many states, including Kansas, prohibit smoking in three key areas: private worksites, restaurants and bars. Missouri has no such laws although some communities have passed legislation restricting smoking.
    There is little push in the State of Missouri to enact laws banning smoking locations or to increase the excise tax on a pack of cigarettes. Until further action is taken, the Missouri Tobacco Quitline, answered daily from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., is the only statewide program targeted to stopping smoking. The public health consequences of smoking are undeniable and the Department of Health and Senior Services, Jay Nixon and Billy Butler deserve credit for their efforts to assist current smokers and discourage young non-smokers from taking up the habit. Seventeen cents. Really?
    Answers: 1. F; 2. F; 3. F.
     
    Dr. Lori Boyajian-O'Neill can be contacted at lori.boyajian-oneill@hcahealthcare.com.
     
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