Fewer Wyoming smokers, but health still a factor

Chelsea Brownlee of Cheyenne, Wyo., has a smoke while waiting for a bus at the corner of 17th Street and Carey Avenue on Thursday in Cheyenne. Smoking in Wyoming is down by more than 5 percent, but tobacco-related health problems are still a factor in the state, according to the Wyoming Department of Health’s most recent data. Jacob Byk / Wyoming Tribune Eagle

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Smoking in Wyoming is down by more than 5 percent, but tobacco-related health problems are still a factor statewide.

Data from the Wyoming Department of Health show that the smoking rate for Wyoming adults was 18.9 percent in 2016, down from 24.6 percent in 2003.

For the first time, Wyoming’s women now smoke at a higher rate than men, while substantially more men are still using smokeless tobacco.

Although smoking is on a gradual decline nationwide, smoking-related deaths have slightly increased, with lung cancer remaining the most common cause of death in Wyoming. Fewer, however, were diagnosed from 2014-2015. More women than men were diagnosed with lung cancer in two consecutive years, which hasn’t happened before, according to the health department.

Joe Grandpre, Chronic Disease/Maternal and Child Health Epidemiology Unit manager at the Wyoming Department of Health, attributes the gender gap to historical and cultural effects.

“One reason we may be seeing an increase in lung cancer diagnoses among women is that historically, women, as a population, started smoking later,” Grandpre said in a news release.

COPD-related deaths also increased, and dental disease continues to plague smokers. Department data suggested 44 percent of adults over 45 who have lost six or more teeth to gum disease or tooth decay were smokers, and those numbers skyrocketed for those over age 65.

In Laramie County, there has been growing support for smoke-free ordinances such as the one Cheyenne city leaders enacted in 2006, which covers bars, restaurants and private clubs. From 2011-2015, though, an average of 21.7 percent of adults in the county were smokers, higher than the state average.

In 2013, Laramie County experienced the second-lowest rate of male smokeless tobacco users, according to the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a statewide telephone survey of adults.

The state’s low cigarette tax rate and few smoke-free laws indicate Wyoming officials are not necessarily prioritizing cancer-fighting efforts, but that could change during this year’s legislative session. In December, the Legislature’s Joint Revenue Committee voted to introduce a bill that would increase the state’s tobacco tax by $1 per pack on all products, including cigarettes.

This could be a game-changer for the state, according to the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network.

“This tax increase would reduce the cost related to smoking-related health issues, and also raise about $22 million in taxes,” said Jason Mincer, government relations director for Wyoming’s Cancer Action Network.

In a news release, the Cancer Action Network said the bill would help roughly 2,800 current smokers quit and reduce the cost of the state’s annual smoking-related health-care costs.

“With the state’s budget challenges, we hope the Legislature considers the tobacco tax increase,” Mincer said.

The national average for taxes on a pack of cigarettes is $1.72 per pack. Wyoming’s per pack tax is 60 cents, which ranks 43rd nationally. Idaho’s is 57 cents per pack, which ranks 45th. Idaho’s cigarette tax has not been raised since 2003.

Kim Deti, health department spokeswoman, said statewide initiatives, such as the Wyoming Tobacco Quit Program, were created to combat the complicated, ongoing struggle with tobacco addiction.

The program offers education and resources, such as free nicotine replacement gum, to those with a prescription, as well as online and phone support.

“We would love to see this rate even lower, because the links between the use of tobaccos and health effects are well-documented at this point,” she said. “We understand quitting isn’t always easy for people, but it is important. So we offer that support and those tools to help people really get that done.”

The Post Register contributed to this article.