UK cancer-center director urges lawmakers to raise cigarette tax and pass a statewide smoking ban to reduce cancer deaths

The Markey Cancer Center at the University of Kentucky supports a statewide smoking ban and an increase in the state cigarette tax to significantly reduce cancer deaths in the state, the center’s director told a legislative committee Sept. 3.

“We are highly supportive, and we hope that you will be supportive as well, of (these) initiatives that we think will improve the overall health of Kentuckians,” Dr. B. Mark Evers told the state legislative Tobacco Settlement Agreement Fund Oversight Committee.

A news release from the Legislative Research Commission said Evers presented the numbers to back up his advice: Kentucky is first nationally in percentage of people who get cancer, and in overall cancer mortality. Lung cancer alone accounts for about 35 percent of Kentucky cancer deaths; nationally, lung cancer’s share is 28 percent.

Twenty-eight percent of adult Kentuckians smoke, with approximately 8,000 deaths each year from smoking-related illnesses. The greatest incidence of tobacco-related cancers is in Eastern Kentucky.

That is the highest percentage in the U.S., Evers notes, adding that there is an indirect relationship between cigarette taxes and smoking rates. Kentucky has the 12th lowest cigarette tax among the states.

“Raising the cost of cigarettes and a statewide smoking ban could help cut Kentucky cancer deaths by 50 percent,” Evers said. That is the Markey Cancer Center’s goal over the next five years.

The center has a new strategic plan, “Conquering Cancer in the Commonwealth,” that focuses on the state’s “major cancer killers” — lung, head and neck, colorectal, breast, and cervical cancer.

In response to a question about how to decrease the number of smokers in Kentucky, Evers pointed to local smoke-free policies and increased efforts in Appalachia toward smoking cessation.

When asked what it will take to lower the percentage of Kentucky smokers to less than 10 percent, Evers recommended three things: increasing the cigarette excise tax, a statewide smoking ban, and instituting lung-cancer screening projects like those in place at UK and the University of Louisville.

“Those three things are really going to help drive down those numbers,” he said.

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