Smoking in Missouri
5:18 pm
Tue August 23, 2011

Study: Fewer smokers in the Show-Me state

Reporting from KCUR's Elana Gordon used in this report.

A decade ago, more than one in four Missourians smoked. Now, only about one in five smoke, and those who do smoke are doing so less often.

That's according to the Centers for Disease Control's latest annual phone survey of more than 5,000 Missourians.

Kendre Israel, with the state's tobacco prevention coalition, says Missouri's decline has outpaced several other states - falling from the third to the 11th highest smoking rate in the nation since 2004.

She says a big increase in comprehensive smoke-free workplace laws across the state - going from just two in 2004 to more than 20 in 2011 - partly accounts for the drop.

"They protect people from the dangers of secondhand smoke exposure," says Israel. "But they also increase the likelihood people never start smoking, help people quit, give incentives to quit, and help change the social norm in their environment."

Israel says the increased availability of services to help people stop smoking, like Missouri's tobacco quitline, also play a role. Missouri's Medicaid program now covers tobacco cessation programs.

Matt Kuhlenbeck heads prevention programs at the Missouri Foundation for Health, a major funder of tobacco cessation initiatives in the state. He says the decline marks a big improvement for Missouri, but he also notes smoking rates practically double for Missourians with the lowest incomes and education levels.

"Pretty much if you look at those two factors, the higher they are, the more likely that community or that population will be a tobacco user," Kuhlenbeck says.

Israel also says more needs to be done to curb smoking in the state. She says that could include raising the state's cigarette tax - now the lowest in the nation at 17 cents a pack - enacting a state-wide smoking ban, and improving state funding for tobacco control programs.