Smoking rate declining in Georgia, says CDC

Georgia’s smoking rate is showing a steady decline, a new CDC report said Thursday.

Cigarette Burning

The state’s rate of adult cigarette smoking fell from 21.2 percent in 2011 to 20.4 in 2012, then fell to 18.8 percent in 2013.

Georgia’s smoking percentage is lower than other Southern states except for Florida, at 16.8 percent, and Texas, at 15.9 percent.

Overall, 26 states had a drop in cigarette smoking prevalence over that period, the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report said.

Meanwhile, Georgia’s use of smokeless tobacco increased from 4.4 percent in 2011 to 5 percent two years later, but that change was too slight to be statistically significant.

While Georgia’s smoking rate decreased, an American Lung Association official said Thursday that the news was not altogether comforting.

“What we’re seeing is a rise in less traditional forms of tobacco use,’’ said June Deen of the American Lung Association in Georgia. She cited the use of e-cigarettes — which mimic the nicotine delivery of cigarettes — and smokeless tobacco.

Recently, the CDC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration reported that e-cigarette use among middle and high school students tripled from 2013 to 2014.

E-cigarettes are being marketed heavily, especially to youth, she noted, adding that these products’ health impact is generally unknown.

Smokeless tobacco damages users’ teeth, gums and throat, Deen said.

Demographic shift

Tobacco use is the single most preventable cause of disease, disability, and death in the United States. It has a huge health impact in Georgia.

It causes more than 11,000 deaths in the state annually, and its direct health care costs amount to more than $3 billion a year.

E-cigarette use is increasing in the U.S.
E-cigarette use is increasing in the U.S.

Michael Eriksen, dean of Georgia State University’s School of Public Health, said Thursday that Georgia’s cigarette smoking rate is “moving in the right direction.”

“It’s much better than other Southern states,’’ he added.

But Eriksen said the drop in Georgia may be due to the ongoing demographic changes in the state. “We are a more diverse state’’ than most states, and blacks and Hispanics smoke less than whites, he said.

Eriksen noted that a majority of e-cigarette users are also continuing to smoke tobacco cigarettes.

The Lung Association’s Deen said the state smoking rate should be about 12 percent “when you think of how long we’ve known tobacco is detrimental to our health.’’

The state should raise its cigarette tax, now among the lowest in the United States, Deen said. Other beneficial steps, she said, would include more funding for prevention programs, and wider promotion of  the state’s telephone “quit line.”

Utah had the lowest cigarette smoking rate in 2013, at 10.3 percent, while West Virginia had the highest, at 27.3 percent.

Nathan Hansen of the University of Georgia’s College of Public Health said states with low rates of tobacco use, such as California, Utah, and Connecticut, have enacted policies that make it very difficult to smoke in public spaces, and “these policies appear to pay off.’’

Utah also has a predominantly Mormon population, and the Mormon Church is strongly opposed to tobacco use.