Half of Kentucky’s adult smokers say they smoked less, or considered or tried to quit smoking, following the increase in the state’s cigarette tax on July 1.
That’s according to the latest Kentucky Health Issues Poll, taken Aug. 26 through Oct. 21, in approximately the third and fourth months after the tax rose to $1.10 a pack from 60 cents.
“The cigarette tax increase is changing thinking and behavior about smoking in Kentucky,” said Ben Chandler, president and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, which co-sponsors the poll.
The poll found that 39 percent of Kentucky smokers reduced the number of cigarettes they smoked, 33 percent considered quitting, and 26 percent actually tried to quit.
The poll did not ask them if their efforts to quit had succeeded, because “It typically takes several attempts to quit,” said Bonnie Hackbarth, the foundation’s vice president for external affairs.
The poll is an annual telephone survey of Kentucky adults, co-funded by Interact for Health, a Cincinnati-area health foundation. It found that Kentucky adults’ use of tobacco cigarettes and electronic cigarettes remains much higher in Kentucky than the national average.
Nearly one in four (23 percent) of Kentucky adults smoke, according to the poll. The highest rates are among lower-income adults; 35 percent of those eligible for Medicaid (earning up to 138 percent of the amount the federal government considers poverty) said they currently smoked cigarettes. Among those with higher incomes, the rate was 16 percent. The national rate is 17 percent.
Chandler chairs the Coalition for a Smoke-Free Tomorrow, a group of 180 Kentucky businesses, advocacy groups, health-care companies and other organizations working to improve health by reducing tobacco use and secondhand smoke exposure in Kentucky. The Coalition led the campaign during the 2018 legislative session to increase the cigarette tax by $1 per pack.
“We knew we wouldn’t get all the health benefits we sought when the legislature opted for 50 cents instead of a dollar and decided to exempt e-cigarettes completely, but we hoped it would have some positive effect. . . . This poll shows it did,” Chandler said.
In lobbying the legislature, the coalition argued that tobacco companies would counter it with consumer coupons and retailer discounts so the effective price would rise more gradually, providing less incentive to quit. The largest tobacco-cigarette manufacturer, Altria Group, seemed willing to accept a 50-cent hike, but successfully opposed a 15 percent tax in electronic cigarettes. Now Altria is buying 35 percent of Juul, by far the leading maker of e-cigarettes,
Chandler said the coalition has “amped up our efforts to encourage Kentuckians to quit, and we’ll keep on advocating for policies and funding to help them do just that. Meanwhile, congratulations to those who have taken the opportunity to quit. Quitting smoking is one of the most beneficial steps individuals can take to improve their own health, and reducing tobacco use is the single most impactful thing the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky can do to improve health in the commonwealth.”
For information and assistance in quitting smoking, call 1-800-QUIT-NOW or visit https://quitnowkentucky.org.