Kentucky has ranked first in the country in deaths from lung cancer for years, and about a third of those deaths were related to smoking, according to a 2016 study released by the American Cancer Society.
A lot of public attention is now focused on overdose deaths from heroin and other drugs, but studies show deaths from lung cancer and other smoking-related cancers were three times as high as deaths from overdoses in 2015.
I spoke with Heather Wehrheim, advocacy director of the American Lung Association in Kentucky. She says addressing the public health effects of tobacco use should be more of a priority for not only the state, but also the public.
On why it’s difficult to pass anti-smoking legislation in Kentucky:
“The problem with tobacco in this state is obviously the heritage that we have here, even though we know that tobacco farming is a dying crop in this state and a lot of tobacco farms are diversifying — that’s what the master settlement money was there to do, to help farmers diversify into other things. But I think people still hold onto that heritage so strongly that people just have a hard time really trying to do anything tobacco control related because they feel like they’re going against what their family did for a living, what their communities based their living on.”
On Kentucky legislators who don’t believe second-hand smoke is harmful:
“I’ve had a couple tell me that thy don’t believe that it’s really dangerous. That’s something that if someone really believes that, there’s probably nothing that I can say to them that will convince them otherwise. All that we can do is present the science and hopefully they will rely on that. But there are still some legislators that say things like that.”