State-specific prevalence of cigarette smoking.

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In previous posts I’ve discussed international differences in tobacco use, which showed that by international standards, male cigarette smoking prevalence is relatively low in the United States, but female smoking prevalence is higher in the US than most other parts of the world. The clearest contrast is with a countries like China, where almost two-thirds of men smoke, but only a few percent of women smoke.

On Friday (Sept 28th, 2007) the US Centers for Disease Control published the latest (2006) figures for adult cigarette smoking prevalence within each U.S. state. The median prevalence was 20.2%, but consistent with recent years, there were some large between-state differences. The highest smoking rates were in tobacco-growing states such as Kentucky (28.6%), or West Virginia (25.7%). The lowest smoking rates were in places with strong cultural prohibitions against tobacco such as Utah (9.8%) and California (14.9%).

Overall, the median smoking rates were higher for men (22.2%) than for women (18.5%). Although it is probably unwise to make too much of single-year prevalence estimates for relatively small geographic regions, such as individual states, I like to look at these to see if anything potentially interesting pops out. The California figures are always of interest as a guide to how low we can go in the rest of the United States. Although the low smoking rates in California are partly related to the high number of non-smoking immigrants to that state, they are largely due to California’s comprehensive tobacco control program that was the first to be reasonably well funded, to increase cigarette taxes, and to pass legislation requiring smoke-free indoor public places. The California program also used a hard hitting media campaign to publicize the harmfulness of tobacco smoke (including to non-smokers), and to encourage smokers to try to quit.

Kentucky provides us with a good example of what happens in a state where the tobacco industry dominates the political agenda – you get very weak tobacco control and very high smoking rates. One thing that stood out was the low smoking rate in Idaho (16.8%). I must say I have no idea why Idaho’s smoking rates are so low, but would be grateful if someone could tell me! The other odd thing I noticed was that despite the fact that men generally smoke more than women, in two states that wasn’t the case. In West Virginia 25.4% of men smoke cigarettes and 26% of women smoke them, and in Montana 18.5% of men smoke as do 19.6% of women. The very high female smoking rate in W.V. may just be a blip in the data, (?) but the Montana difference looks to be related to unusually low male smoking rates in that state. The only other part of the world where the proportion of men who smoke is consistently lower than women is Sweden, and in that case it is because many men have switched from smoking to snuff (smokeless) tobacco. If anyone out there has an explanation for the male/female smoking pattern in Montana and West Virginia I’d be interested to hear it.

If you would like to find out the latest figures for your own state, check them out via this link: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5638a2.htm
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About the Author


MA, MAppSci, PhD

Dr. Jonathan Foulds is an expert in the field of tobacco addiction.

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