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Study Spotlights Arkansas' High Rate of Cigarette-Related Deaths

A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association reports that one-third of smoking-related cancer deaths in Arkansas are due to cigarettes. (MrKornFlakes/iStockphoto)
A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association reports that one-third of smoking-related cancer deaths in Arkansas are due to cigarettes. (MrKornFlakes/iStockphoto)
October 28, 2016

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – One-third of cancer deaths in Arkansas are due to cigarettes, ranking the state second in the nation for its percentage of smoking-related cancer deaths. A new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that Arkansas tops the U.S. in cigarette-related cancer deaths among men, at 40 percent, and ranks fourth among women, at 26 percent.

Michael Keck, government relations director for the American Cancer Society in Arkansas said the state's history of tobacco-related public policies has contributed to the problem.

"Because of the fact that we have a tobacco tax below the national average, we have not fully funded tobacco prevention and cessation programs, and we do not have comprehensive smoke-free laws, we have created the situation where we are today," he explained.

Arkansas also has one of highest overall smoking rates among adults, ranking third among the states. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost 25 percent of Arkansas adults smoke cigarettes. And 16 percent of the state's high schoolers smoke, a number also above the national average.

Keck describes smoking not only as a danger to the health of Arkansas residents, but as a drag on the state's economy.

"It is estimated that the cost, just simply the healthcare cost every year in Arkansas, is approximately $1 billion directly related to tobacco," he added. "That's hard dollars; that's what's spent in our state on tobacco-related illness."

Keck, who keeps Arkansas lawmakers updated on cancer-related issues, said the study should help him convince them to make some changes.

"This January, when the Legislature comes into session, it provides a great opportunity to address this," he said. "And I'm confident that we're going to be able to look at new legislation that would allow us to better address the health of Arkansans, and improve where we are in the statistics."

He added that the Legislature cut funding for the state's smoking "quit line" last year, but he believes the study could convince them to restore full funding and even expand the program.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - AR