Over the past decade, Tobacco Free Florida and other anti-smoking organizations have been instrumental in lowering the state’s levels of cigarette consumption.
According to the latest data by Tobacco Free Florida, only 15.8 percent of adults in Florida are current smokers, a record low. However, in a new report released on last week, statistics show some communities are still behind.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute released their annual County Health Rankings & Roadmaps report, which looks at a variety of factors that can affect the health of the residents of each individual county in the United States.
The report revealed that while Florida as a whole is continuing to lower its smoking rate, many of its rural counties have significantly higher numbers than the statewide average.
A total of 18 counties, including Union, Putnam, Dixie and Suwannee, have a smoking rate that is at least three percent higher than Florida’s overall ratio.
For Andrew Romero, the health policy program manager at the Florida Department of Health in Alachua County, the report’s findings are not surprising.
Fifteen of the 16 counties in the state with the highest smoking rates also rank in the bottom 20 of per capita income, according to the report. Romero said that wasn’t a coincidence.
“The tobacco industry has a long history of targeting specific groups,” Romero said. “They target lower economic status populations and also populations with lower education. They’ve done this for decades and decades, and it’s just been part of their strategy.”
For those addicted to cigarettes and looking to quit, there are options.
Kellie O’Dare Wilson, bureau chief of Tobacco Free Florida, is one of many who are trying to spread the word on the multitude of resources Floridians have access to.
“In many communities across our state, smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke are accepted as a fact of life, but they do not have to be,” she said. “We want Floridians in every county to know that there is help available and, best of all, it’s free.”
The most prominent of those resources is the Quit Your Way program through Tobacco Free Florida.
The program offers a trained quit coach that citizens can contact over the phone for advice and support, a series of group quit sessions that are run by a trained specialist, as well as free products such as nicotine patches and gum.
According to Romero, low socioeconomic populations try to quit at the same rate as higher socioeconomic populations. However, they are often not as successful.
He said moving forward, the key to lowering smoking levels in Florida is the implementation of tobacco free environments, such as in schools and work sites.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation also employs “community coaches,” who provide information and guidance to communities on how they can live a healthier life.
One of those coaches is Ericka Burroughs-Girardi. She is stationed in Central Florida, and hopes the report’s numbers will mark the beginning of reform in the state’s rural counties.
“Our goal is that the rankings will be the start of a conversation between community leaders and multiple people coming together to talk about how they can improve their communities health,” she said.