By Jessie Eden
In a special presentation on Monday, several Northern Kentucky leaders and organizations came together to discuss recent data from "Interact for Health" on the State of Tobacco Use in Northern Kentucky.
The discussion included special guest speakers; Brent Cooper from the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, Dr. Lynne Sadler from the Northern Kentucky Department of Health and Tony Cox with the Bracken County Health Department.
The study outlined information from 9 different counties in Northern Kentucky; Campbell, Kenton, Boone, Grant, Pendleton, Carroll, Gallatin, Bracken and Owen.
Some of the key findings included the following;
- Smoking is the number one preventable cause of death in Kentucky
- 8,900 Kentuckians die from smoking each year
- $1.92 billion in annual health care costs
- There is a significant rate of smokers in lower income families in Kentucky
- In NKY, 4 out of 10 adults use some kind of tobacco product (tobacco, smoking, vaping)
- Throughout Kentucky, 69% of voters support some kind of Smoke Free Law. In suburban counties, 75% support it and in rural areas, 63% support it.
The Business Perspective on Tobacco Use: Good Health is Good Business
In the presentation, Brent Cooper, President and CEO of the NKY Chamber of Commerce and an advocate of a 'smoke-free' Northern Kentucky, stated that his focus in regards to tobacco use in the area is to convey the downside of continued use to business owners.
“The national average for smoking is 14%. In Greater Cincinnati it is 19%. Here in Northern Kentucky it is a whopping 24%! The vast majority of business leaders recognize that smoking increases the cost of doing business through higher health insurance premiums, lower worker productivity, and a negative public perception of our state," said Brent. "When you look at the numbers from a statewide perspective, (Smoking costs KY $1.92 billion in annual health care costs and $2.79 billion in productivity costs), it’s overwhelmingly obvious that we need to adopt policies that will reduce smoking and lead to better health outcomes for our citizens. The bottom line is this: Good health is good business.”
Brent also mentioned how business talent from other states that are relocating to the area are often shocked by NKY's smoking culture and rates. "We bring people from all around the state and around the world to Northern Kentucky and they are often flabbergasted that we don’t have smoking policies in place. Lexington, Louisville, Cincinnati all have smoke-free laws. When we pull people in from around the country, they see the data and they say the policies don’t back it up."
Brent says the data will hopefully resonate with local, city and county officials...as well as local businesses. "This is a great way for officials to look at this data, to prioritize health in the region and look at this as an issue for the region," said Brent. "Businesses need to be better about smoking cessation programs and offering financial incentives to quit smoking. Health insurance costs are business owners' biggest expense. If we can find a way to collectively reduce that cost for the state and the region, that’s good business!"
A Powerful Collaboration
Dr. Saddler with NKY Health agrees with Brent and over the past decade, things have starting to move in the right direction in regards to advocacy for a smoke-free region thanks to Brent's help. "Part of what is different now is that there is a very powerful collaboration going on. Brent has been a huge advocate for years. He understands the importance of health and development in NKY. He has made a phenomenal partner in helping to make Northern Kentucky one of the healthiest regions in America," said Dr. Saddler. "When I go to an elected official to talk about this, they expect it from me...but when the average citizen or business owner talks to them about it, they list in different ways. We have to be able to tap into Northern Kentucky residents and leaders in communities to move forward to make Northern Kentucky healthy.
A Culture Change in Rural Kentucky
Most Smokers in Kentucky Want To Quit -- And There are Programs to Help Them
Megan Folkerth, Senior Program Manager for Interact For Health says that some progress has been made over the years in NKY. "We need to celebrate these successes. Local and state public health agencies and health care providers have made progress in these areas. From community education to CDC tips from the former smokers campaign, there has been a significant increase in callers to the help line. We know community education works and it does drive people to take action," said Megan. "With expanded access to health care and more Medicaid enrollees, Kentucky has the most comprehensive coverage for Medicaid enrollees – it's all about getting them access to what they need."