A Resolution for the State: Take Responsible Steps to Reduce Tobacco Burden

Posted: April 3, 2016

The following op-ed by Dean Janie Heath and Professor Ellen has was published in the Louisville Courier-Journal on January 11, 2015. 

Our New Year’s resolution is for Kentucky to breathe clean air and build its economic strength by investing in the health of our loved ones and in future generations.

Seventeen years ago, after the 1998 State Tobacco Settlement, Kentucky made a promise to use a portion of the settlement funds to find solutions to the public health problems caused by tobacco. Today, Kentucky brings in $302 million dollars a year from tobacco, yet the state spends less than 1 percent of this revenue — $2.5 million per year — on preventing tobacco use.

This is a missed opportunity for Kentucky, in terms of health and our economy. According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Kentucky loses $1.92 billion dollars a year in health costs from smoking. This equates to a $1,160 tax burden on every Kentucky household from smoking-caused government expenditures.

This is an opportunity for our new governor and the general assembly to enact solutions that will save lives and improve the economic wellbeing of the Commonwealth.

These solutions are even more important when considering how much tobacco companies invest in trying to convince Kentuckians to smoke – $292.8 million dollars a year, equaling $66 per person per year. Tobacco product marketing entices Kentuckians to use tobacco, afflicting generations with costly and painful diseases, early death, and enormous healthcare costs. Kentucky faces an uphill battle against sophisticated, well-financed tobacco company marketing.

Research has repeatedly shown that tobacco marketing is highly effective at convincing young people to smoke, as 90 percent of adult smokers start at or before age 18. Tobacco companies make smoking tobacco products including electronic smoking devices seem safe, normal and desirable to those who are most impressionable – the more than one million children living in Kentucky. We can change that trend, save thousands of lives and millions of dollars — if we act now.

Most significantly, Kentucky has an important opportunity to join 24 other states in requiring all workplaces, without exception, be smoke-free. This inexpensive solution is known to reduce smoking, lower heart and asthma attacks, and send fewer people with emphysema to the hospital.  States like Ohio and Illinois have already taken this financially responsible, effective and commonsense step toward keeping their residents safe.

Let’s make a New Year’s resolution to protect our loved ones and future generations by investing in sustained tobacco prevention and helping people quit in order to counter the marketing of tobacco companies.  Everyone across Kentucky deserves to breathe clean air free of tobacco smoke and e-smoke aerosol in our public buildings and workplaces.

The return on investment for the health of Kentucky couldn’t be more important, so let’s make this New Year’s resolution stick.

Janie Heath is the Warwick Professor of Nursing and Dean of the UK College of Nursing. Ellen Hahn is the director of the Kentucky Center for Smoke-free Policy and the Marcia A. Dake Professor in the UK College of Nursing.