New study finds Greater Cincinnati tobacco users could fill GABP 14 times

'We've left people out of the progress we've seen'
Posted at 9:47 PM, Sep 03, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-04 08:35:49-04

CINCINNATI — Fewer adults in Greater Cincinnati are using tobacco products than in the past, but our region lags behind the nation when it comes to kicking the habit.

Those are among the findings of a new Interact for Health study called “Tobacco Use in Greater Cincinnati: Envisioning a tobacco-free community.”

If you’re wondering why Interact for Health is focusing on tobacco when the opioid epidemic and other health crises seem to dominate the news, you’re not alone.

“We often get, why tobacco? Didn’t we solve that problem?” said Megan Folkerth, Interact for Health’s senior program officer for the organization’s tobacco focus area. “And we have made some great progress in reducing tobacco use, but it is still the number one preventable cause of death and disease in the country and in the region.”

Additionally, some communities in our region use tobacco products far more than others, the study found, and that leads to significant racial, economic and geographic health disparities.

“We know that our rates of smoking and other tobacco use are higher for low-income communities, for African Americans and some of our rural communities, so we haven’t really solved the issue for everybody,” Folkerth said. “We’ve left people out of the progress we’ve seen.”

The Institute of Policy Research at the University of Cincinnati interviewed 2,300 randomly selected adults in a 22-county area by telephone between Aug. 11, 2018 and March 21, 2019. The survey included both landline and cell phone interviews.

The study found one in three adults, or 34%, use one or more tobacco products.

  • 19% smoke cigarettes, more than the 14% rate for the country as a whole
  • 12% use e-cigarettes
  • 8% smoke cigars or cigarillos
  • 5% use smokeless tobacco

Roughly 600,000 adults in Greater Cincinnati currently use some type of tobacco product, which the study notes is enough to fill Great American Ball Park more than 14 times.

Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana are among the 13 states nicknamed “Tobacco Nation” because they have some of the highest rates of tobacco use in the country, said Kelley Adcock, an Interact for Health evaluation and research officer.

“It’s connected to a lot of issues in our community,” she said. “A lot of those social and economic factors that are influencing health.”

Why it matters for all of us

The study notes that tobacco use has been part of the local culture for many years.

  • 80% of the adults surveyed think “smoking is common” in their community
  • 58% of adults have at least one close friend who currently uses tobacco
  • 49% of current smokers have children living in their households
  • 32% of smokers report high levels of stress

The encouraging finding, Adcock said, is that seven out of 10 smokers in the region are thinking about quitting for good.

“Smoking is an addiction,” she said. “It takes a lot of tries and lot of effort to quit, but I think that’s great news.”

The 1-800-QUIT-NOW toll-free line can offer personalized support to people in the Tri-State who want to quit smoking.

And although tobacco use doesn’t get the attention that other health issues do, it’s a problem that impacts all of us, Adcock and Folkerth said.

“We’re not all protected if there are people around us smoking,” Adcock said. “When it’s part of our community culture, the places we go, even if we’re not using ourselves, there’s second- and third-hand smoke that affects us all, and it still does harm our health.”

There are economic burdens, too.

“We’re spending over $300 billion to address tobacco use across our country between those direct medical costs as well as lost productivity,” Folkerth said. “So this has an impact on employees and the workplace as well.”

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To help address the problem, Interact for Health will be working to develop smoking cessation programs that are more effective in the communities that have the biggest problem with tobacco use.

The organization also will work to promote programs that address the root causes for smoking to help tobacco users reduce stress in other ways.

Policy changes can help, too, including laws that require workplaces to be smoke-free, increasing the minimum age to 21 for purchasing tobacco products and enacting restrictions on menthol and other flavored tobacco products, Adcock said.

Interact for Health plans to begin an aggressive marketing campaign to counteract tobacco industry advertising that appeals to tobacco users, she said.

And the organization will have grant money available to groups that want to try new ways to reduce tobacco use in their communities, said Emily Gresham Wherle, Interact for Health’s director of public relations and community engagement.

“The idea is to try things and to give communities the ability to try new ideas to test them out,” she said. “Those that work can bubble up and filter out to other places.”

Interact for Health will host the first-ever Greater Cincinnati Tobacco Summit on Wednesday at Xavier University’s Cintas Center to bring together public health officials and others working to reduce tobacco use. Brian King, a national expert in e-cigarettes and vaping from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will serve as keynote speaker at the event.

Interact for Health’s study, “Tobacco Use in Greater Cincinnati: Envisioning a tobacco-free community” is available online.

Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. To reach Lucy, email Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.