A recent Ball State University study found that Indiana had the seventh-highest smoking rate in the country, that 9,700 Hoosiers a year die of complications from tobacco use and that it cost $4.7 billion in annual health care and other economic costs.
Statewide, 24 percent of adults smoked in 2011, according to Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Statistics. That number is even higher in Johnson County, where 26.1 percent of adults smoked last year. The national average is 19 percent.
The smoking rate actually increased by about one percentage point in Johnson County compared with the previous year, but that might be due to surveyors calling cellphones for the first time. They now have a more accurate picture of how many smokers the county has, since fewer and fewer people have landlines in their home.
The increase is troubling news for health professionals, and health agencies are trying to do more to get residents to quit.
Franciscan St. Francis Health-Indianapolis, for instance, launched the Aspire Tobacco Free program aimed at assisting people who want to quit. The program uses a personalized approach to help people change their behavior, so they won’t feel the need to reach for a cigarette, coordinator Jodie Fisher said.
A state agency also recently expanded a phone counseling hotline to serve teens and to let smokers talk to cessation counselors by text message or online. But state lawmakers have cut funding for smoking cessation efforts from $8 million last year to $5 million this year. The full effects of the funding cut aren’t yet known, but only $5 million will be spent statewide on cessation programs, while the tobacco industry will spend an estimated $280 million to advertise its products in Indiana, Partnership for a Healthier Johnson County director Jane Blessing said.
Partnership for a Healthier Johnson County will see its smoking-prevention funding decrease by about 15 percent from about $217,000 over the past two years to about $185,000 over the next two years.
The health advocacy group still will be able to fully fund all its planned programs, including getting more doctor referrals to the quit line that offers free one-on-one over-the-phone counseling to people who are trying to stop, and presentations about the dangers of smoking in schools, Blessing said.
But any further cut in state funding could result in fewer presentations at local schools, less promotion of the state’s quit line and a slowdown in efforts to get local doctors to refer their patients to the quit line, Blessing said.
A big challenge is getting people who already smoke to quit, since cigarettes are so addictive. About 57 percent of Indiana smokers tried to quit over the past year, the Ball State study found.
In light of the latest figures and to help decrease the number of smokers, now would be a good time for the Johnson County Board of Commissioners to revisit a proposal for a countywide smoking ban. It’s clear the state law is not having the health impact needed, so local action is needed.
By enacting a countywide ordinance that would work in concert with the local rules in Franklin and Greenwood, Johnson County would be better positioned to protect the health of workers by creating smoke-free workplaces and would create greater incentive for smokers to quit.
A simple example of that incentive is shown by the new policy at Franklin’s swimming pool not to allow pass-outs for smokers. As Blessing put it: “When people start to realize they can cope or stay off a cigarette for five, six, eight hours, that gives them encouragement.”
So in the interest of the health of Johnson County residents, we urge the commissioners to again consider and then pass a comprehensive countywide smoking ban.