The state Department of Health said Friday the number of Oklahoma residents who smoke has dropped to a historic low, which officials said will mean fewer premature deaths and lower health care costs for smoking-related illnesses.
State health officials said figures released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate 23.3 percent of Oklahoma residents smoked in 2012, down from 26.1 percent in 2011. Oklahoma now is ranked 39th highest in the nation in its rate of adult smoking, a significant decline from 47th last year.
“It’s great news,” said Dr. Terry Cline, a clinical psychologist, who’s the state health commissioner and secretary of health and human services. Cline credited the decline to education efforts by state and community officials about the harmful effects of smoking.
“We’ve worked hard to get accurate information to Oklahomans. As a result, Oklahomans are deciding for themselves not to smoke,” Cline said.
Health officials said figures released by the CDC and census data indicated there were about 75,000 fewer adult smokers in Oklahoma in 2012 than 2011.
“That’s phenomenal,” Cline said. “This is the best news we’ve heard in a long time.”
The percentage of Oklahoma residents who have never smoked increased from 49.2 percent in 2011 to 52.4 percent in 2012, an increase of about 100,000 people. And the percentage of those who smoke every day decreased from 19.9 percent in 2011 to 17 percent in 2012.
In addition, cigarette purchases across the state have decreased. More than 14 million fewer cigarette tax stamps were sold by the Oklahoma Tax Commission in the fiscal year that ended June 30 than the year before, a 5.2 percent drop in cigarette packs sold.
In the past decade, the number of cigarette tax stamps sold has decreased by 100 million overall, the Health Department said.
“The decreases in our smoking rate and cigarette sales will help create a healthier Oklahoma for the next generation,” Cline said.
State health officials say smoking is the leading preventable cause of death, and contributes in more deaths than alcohol, traffic accidents, AIDS, suicides, murders and illegal drugs combined. Cline said at least 6,000 Oklahoma residents die every year from tobacco-related illnesses.
Statistics provided by the United Health Foundation show the state ranks high in the number of cancer and cardiovascular deaths, diseases Cline has said are linked to smoking. The state averages about 330 cardiovascular deaths per 100,000 residents — 48th in the nation.
In spite of the decline in number of people smoking, another study released a week ago was critical of Oklahoma’s policies to prevent cancer — especially illnesses caused by tobacco. The American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network said Oklahoma fared poor to moderate on several issues related to prohibition, taxation and funding of prevention tactics.
One of the ways Oklahoma is fighting back against tobacco is by giving people a phone number to call. Ten years ago, the Oklahoma Tobacco Helpline began as a way to help people quit. Since then, more than a quarter million Oklahomans have asked for help.
Just last year, the Helpline received approximately 34,000 calls from people interested in quitting tobacco.
“These are all positive steps,” Cline said. “We’re on that track. While it is fantastic to see Oklahoma out of the bottom 10 states for smoking rates, we still have work to do to reduce the devastating health effects of smoking and secondhand smoke.”
Oklahoma Tobacco Helpline at (800) QUIT-NOW ( 784-8669) or register online at www.okhelpline.com.
Staff writer Dale Denwalt contributed to this story.