American Lung Association Report Aims to Reduce Tobacco Use in Rhode Island’s Rural Communities

Providence, RI (August 15, 2012)

Today, the American Lung Association released its latest lung health disparity report, “Cutting Tobacco’s Rural Roots: Tobacco Use in Rural Communities,” which examines tobacco addiction and exposure to secondhand smoke in rural America, particularly among rural youth. Eighty-eight percent of adult smokers report starting prior to the age of 18, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Tobacco use is higher in rural communities than in suburban and urban communities, and smokeless tobacco use is shockingly twice as common. Rural youth are more likely to use tobacco and to start earlier than urban youth, perpetuating the cycle of tobacco addiction and death and disease. In Rhode Island, 13.3% of high school students smoke.   

“Tobacco use is often more socially acceptable in rural areas, making it more likely that kids living in these communities will also start to use tobacco,” said Jeff Seyler, President and CEO of the American Lung Association of the Northeast.  “Far too often, the public forgets that Rhode Island has a significant rural population; almost 100,000 residents live in rural communities. This report should remind Rhode Island’s community leaders and residents to take a stand against the culture of tobacco use as part of life and empower our future generations to lead healthy, tobacco-free lives.”

There are a number of environmental and social factors that contribute to this generational cycle of tobacco use among rural America. Increased tobacco use is associated with lower education levels and lower income, which are both common in rural areas where there may be fewer opportunities for educational and economic advancement.  Exposure to secondhand smoke is also higher as rural communities are less likely to have smokefree air laws in place and residents are less likely to refuse to allow smoking in their homes or other indoor places.
 
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. Sadly as the tobacco industry spends millions of dollars targeting rural youth, these youth 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.

Many rural states have low tobacco taxes. Raising tobacco prices is a proven strategy to reduce tobacco use. Rhode Island’s current tobacco tax is $3.50, the second highest in the nation behind only New York State, and a full $2 higher than the current average state cigarette tax of $1.46 per pack. A 2011 proposal to cut the cigarette tax was defeated, due to efforts by the Rhode Island Tobacco Control Network, partners in the Lung Association’s fight to reduce tobacco’s burden.

The American Lung Association in Rhode Island  is calling on government agencies, the research and funding community, health systems and insurers, community leaders, schools and families to take steps now to cut tobacco’s rural roots. “Rural communities here in Rhode Island and across the country need special attention if we’re going to make a major dent in tobacco prevalence,” said Tina Ragless, Rhode Island Director of Health Promotion and Public Policy for the American Lung Association of the Northeast. “If residents, community leaders, organizations and decision-makers all work together, we can make progress in reducing the health disparity caused by tobacco use in rural communities.”  

Promotion of the availability of state quit-smoking counseling services by phone and online resource lags across the country. The American Lung Association offers smoking cessation resources to help people quit smoking for good. In Rhode Island, 15.7 percent of the total adult population smokes and overall, 9.3 percent live in rural areas:

  • 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.
  • 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.   

In addition to expanding the Lung Association’s capability to provide its programs and services to the rural community, there are also several other action steps to reduce rural tobacco use.  These steps are detailed in the full report, and include that 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.

This report is part of the Lung Association’s Disparities in Lung Health Series.

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