Smoking Death Rates in the U.S. Nosedive in all but One State

According to a report released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday smoking death rates in the U.S. took a downward plunge and the states with the highest smoking rates have the highest death rates from smoking.

Topping the list of the 10 states with the highest average annual smoking deaths were Kentucky and West Virginia followed by Nevada, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama, Indiana and Missouri. The states that came in at the bottom with the lowest death rates were Utah and Hawaii. For the states Kentucky and West Virginia this was the second time they had the dubious honor to top the list, the first one being in 2004.

Smoking death rates are calculated using death certificate data from the years 2000 through 2004 with an emphasis on lung cancer and 18 such diseases that are caused by cigarette smoking. Kentucky, the leader, had a smoking death rate of 371 deaths out of every 100,000 adults age 35 and older, a rate that was almost one-and-a-half times higher than the national median of 263 per 100,000. Utah, the lowest state in the list had a death rate of 138 per 100,000.

The report highlighted that the smoking death rates in fell in 49 of the 50 U.S. states with only Oklahoma showing an increase. In the four-year period ending in 1999 the annual rate of smoking related deaths fell from 288 per 100,000 people, to 263 per 100,000 in the five years ending in 2004.

An interesting fact that was brought to notice by the report was that an increase in women smokers was seen in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee and Texas, while for men only the state of Oklahoma showed an increase. Interestingly in every state males registered a higher number of smoking deaths than females although smoking rates for men declined in 49 states as compared to a decline for women in only 32 states.

The good news the report gave was that in 2007 the number of smokers fell for the first time on record below 20% to settle at 19.8 % which was one percentage point lower than the previous year. The CDC report said in 2007 17% of the women and 22 % of the men were smokers.

Terry Pechacek, a CDC senior scientist for tobacco-related issues said smoking "is like gasoline on the fire," when added to factors like obesity which could trigger heart disease.

The report is published this week in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Special Thanks to Mr. Joel London, MPH, CHES
Health Communication Specialist
CDC, Office on Smoking and Health
Atlanta, GA 30341