Cutting Tobacco’s Roots in Rural Communities

(August 15, 2012)

Cutting Tobacco's Rural Roots: Tobacco Use in Rural Communities
Cutting Tobacco’s Rural Roots: Tobacco Use in Rural Communities is the latest report to be released in the Disparities in Lung Health series.

The United States has made great progress in reducing overall tobacco use over the past several decades, but some parts of our society bear a disproportionate burden of tobacco use and tobacco-related illness. People living in rural communities are more likely to use tobacco and have especially high rates of smokeless tobacco use. Rural Americans are also more likely to be exposed to secondhand smoke and less likely to have access to programs that help them quit smoking.

Our latest health disparity report, “Cutting Tobacco’s Rural Roots: Tobacco Use in Rural Communities,” examines the uphill battle rural communities face against tobacco addiction and secondhand smoke and weighs in on what can be done to remedy this acute health threat.

Root of the Problem

Tobacco use is higher in rural communities than in suburban and urban communities, and smokeless tobacco use is shockingly twice as common. Rural youngsters are more likely to use tobacco and to start earlier than urban youth, perpetuating the cycle of tobacco addiction leading to death and disease.

Why is this epidemic plaguing rural communities?

Education and income levels. Increased tobacco use is associated with lower education levels and lower income, which are both more common in rural areas where there may be fewer opportunities for educational and economic advancement.

Secondhand smoke exposure. Exposure to secondhand smoke is also higher as rural communities are less likely to have smokefree air laws in place and less likely to have voluntary restrictions on smoking indoors.

Tobacco industry marketing. For decades, the tobacco industry has used rural imagery, such as the “Marlboro Man,” to promote its products and appeal to rural audiences. Over the past several years, the tobacco industry’s marketing of smokeless tobacco products has skyrocketed.

Less help avoiding tobacco and quitting smoking. Sadly, as the tobacco industry spends millions of dollars targeting rural youth, these young people are less likely to be exposed to tobacco counter-marketing campaigns. Rural tobacco users are also less likely to have access to tobacco cessation programs and services to get the help they need to quit. Promotion of the availability of state counseling services by phone and online resources also lags in rural communities.

Cheaper tobacco products. Many rural states have low tobacco taxes, making these products more affordable, especially to young people, who may be thinking about trying tobacco for the first time. Raising tobacco prices is a proven strategy to reduce tobacco use.

Cutting the Roots

It is imperative that government agencies, the research and funding community, health systems and insurers, community leaders, schools and families all take steps now to cut tobacco’s rural roots. The rural community clearly requires special attention if we hope to end the epidemic of tobacco use in this country. We must all work together as neighbors to overcome this health disparity.

State and federal tobacco control programs must make a concerted effort and dedicate funding to reach rural communities; the research community should focus attention and resources on identifying effective cessation treatments for smokeless tobacco use; and school, health and employment systems in rural areas must all implement effective tobacco control strategies including smokefree air policies and access to cessation services.

Here are some resources the American Lung Association offers to help people quit smoking for good:

  • Freedom From Smoking® is a program that teaches the skills and techniques that have been proven to help hundreds of thousands of adults quit smoking. Freedom From Smoking is available as a group clinic, an online program and a self-help book.
  • Not-On-Tobacco® (N-O-T) is a group program designed to help 14 to 19 year old smokers end their addiction to nicotine. The curriculum consists of 10, 50-minute sessions that typically occur once a week for 10 weeks.
  • The Lung HelpLine, 1-800-LUNG-USA, offers one-on-one support from registered nurses and respiratory therapists. Individuals have the opportunity to seek guidance on lung health and find out how to participate in and join the Lung Association smoking cessation programs.

Take some time to read the full report, which details action steps to reduce rural tobacco use. Let’s remove those tobacco roots and nurture a new culture of lung health.