Sucking on a burning plant is bad for your health.
That fact hasn’t been news since the U.S. surgeon general first warned Americans of the dangers of smoking way back in 1964.
Since that big story broke, labels on cigarettes warning smokers of cancer and other health risks have grown larger and larger, the tobacco industry pay for anti-smoking ads on TV and Hollywood has quit paying celebs to destroy their lungs.
Smoking rates have gone down, but not so much among the less affluent, reports The New York Times, which says “smoking, the leading cause of preventable death in the country, is now increasingly a habit of the poor and the working class.”
Here’s what the Times had to say about the federal smoking data released Monday:
It found that affluent counties across the nation have experienced the biggest, and fastest, declines in smoking rates, while progress in the poorest ones has stagnated. The findings are particularly stark for women: About half of all high-income counties showed significant declines in the smoking rate for women, but only 4 percent of poor counties did, the analysis found.
Since 1997, the smoking rate for adults has fallen 27 percent, but among the poor it has declined just 15 percent, according to the analysis.
The decline in smoking rates in Georgia trails the national average significantly.
The Times provides an interesting map that show smoking rates declined about 5 percent in the Atlanta region from 1996 to 2012. (Note: I included the following counties in my quick research — Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fayette, Forsyth, Fulton, Henry, Gwinnett.)
Forsyth County, the wealthiest in Georgia with a median household income of $84,000, also has the lowest smoking rate in metro Atlanta, 15 percent. Also, from 1996 to 2012, the smoking rate in Forsyth declined the most in our area — 7 percent.
The poorest county in our immediate area is Clayton, with a median household income of $44,000. Twenty-two percent of adults there smoke, the highest in the metro area. The rate of decline was about average — 5 percent.
DeKalb is the second poorest county in our area with a median household income of $49,000. Eighteen percent of adults smoke in DeKalb, down only 2 percent, but DeKalb had the lowest smoking rate in our area in 1996.
Which Georgia county smokes the most? That would be Brantley County in southeast Georgia. If you’ve ever driven from Valdosta to St. Simons you drove right through it.
In Brantley, where the median household income is $30,000, an amazing 30 percent of adults still smoke.
The poorest county in Georgia, Hancock, has a household income of only $22,000. The smoking rate there has increased from 26 to 27 percent since 1996. I don’t recall driving through there lately, though in pre-GPS days I once got lost looking for the Uncle Remus Museum and it may have happened.
Since wealthier people tend to live in metropolitan areas that tend to adopt ordinances that ban smoking in public places, one could argue it is the ordinances that are getting people to kick the nasty habit.
Forsyth, however, has no anti-smoking ordinance. Atlanta, located in Fulton County, bans smoking in parks, and has the second fewest smokers (16 percent).
Here’s a chart you may find interesting:
County name – Percent of smokers – Median household income
Forsyth – 15 – $84,800
Cobb – 16 – $70,400
Fayette – 16 – $71,200
Fulton – 16 – $49,300
Gwinnett – 16 – $60,500
DeKalb – 18 – $49,100
Cherokee – 19 – $60,900
Henry – 21 – $64,200
Clayton – 22 – $44,400
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