SPRINGFIELD, Mo.–Missourians love their cigarettes is what a new report by truthinitiative.org reveals.
The study lists Missouri as one of twelve states that make up what is called “Tobacco Nation.”
It consists of states that have a higher percentage of adults that smoke compared to the rest of the country.
While the smoking rate for the rest of the nation is declining, when you look at the rate inside Tobacco Nation, it alone ranks among the five worst in the world alongside the Philippines, Indonesia, Ukraine, and China.
“You’re out with your friends, having a few drinks and you think you’re cool with a cigarette in your hands,” says Keith St. George.
This is how St. George got hooked on smoking for a decade. These days, he hasn’t touched a cigarette in almost 30 years.
“I realized one day when I was running and doing some jogging I was gasping for air and I said ‘why am I sucking poison in my lungs?’ ” says St. George.
It’s a realization that hasn’t caught on for Missouri or 11 other states including Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and West Virginia that make up Tobacco Nation. A portion of the country where over 22% of adults smoke compared to 15%of the rest of the country.
“They appear to be a separate country if you will within a country in the United States and if you took this country and compared it to the ten non-industrialized third world countries with the highest tobacco rate, it ranks number five,” says Dr. Jim Blaine.
One of the reasons being is because cigarettes are inexpensive in the upper midwest and south. In Tobacco Nation, they are 19% cheaper than the rest of the country with Missouri leading the way.
“We have the lowest tobacco tax in the nation at 17 cents and that’s no accident. We are heavily lobbied by the tobacco industry,” says Dr. Blaine.
Dr. Blaine says there’s a way to deter that if people understood the risks.
“Missouri used virtually nothing from the tobacco settlement and of course with the low tobacco tax, we have no money there to spend in prevention,” says Dr. Blaine.
So what can we do to help combat the issue?
“We really need to support people that support stronger laws governing tobacco use by children and also efforts to increase the tobacco tax,” says Dr. Blaine.
In February of this year, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that Missouri will recoup $50 million from a settlement from four major cigarette companies that began in 1998, but the state put that money in a general revenue fund instead of using it toward educating people on the health risks of smoking.