Smoking

A smoker ashes his cigarette at TJ’s Bar & Grill in 2015 in Casper. The rate of smoking deaths in Wyoming continues to rise.

File, Star-Tribune

Deaths and health issues related to smoking continue to plague Wyomingites, even as the rate of adult smokers in the Cowboy State has fallen in recent years.

State data shows that in 2016, the smoking rate for Wyoming adults was 18.9 percent, down by more than 5 percentage points since 2003’s level of 24.6 percent, according to the state Department of Health. More than 19 percent of female adults here smoke, overtaking men (18.8 percent) for the first time.

While women now smoke at higher rates than male Wyomingites, men are still far ahead in the use of smokeless tobacco. The overall rate is 9.8 percent, but 17 percent of men use smokeless tobacco, compared to 2.3 percent of women.

Wyoming has one of the highest rates of smokeless tobacco usage in the country, department spokeswoman Kim Deti said. She said she didn’t really have an explanation for why other than that it appeared to be cultural. She noted, for instance, that smokeless tobacco companies were one of the primary sponsors of rodeos in Wyoming.

Smoking rates have fallen across the country. Deti said a big part of that drop can be attributed to more public knowledge of the risks of smoking. National and local efforts have also contributed. In Wyoming, for instance, smokers trying to quit can receive free nicotine gum or patches while also having access to coaching support, either online or over the phone.

But while the overall rates have dropped, deaths related to the habit have risen. In 2014, 303 people were diagnosed with lung cancer in Wyoming, and 212 died from the disease. The next year, 276 were diagnosed, and 213 died.

In both years, more women than men were diagnosed, the first time that’s happened in consecutive years, according to the health department. Lung cancer was the third-most common cancer diagnosis in both 2014 and 2015, behind breast and prostate cancer. But lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer death in Wyoming.

The number of deaths from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, has also increased of late.

“From 1990 to 1999 there were an average of 143 COPD deaths in men and 112 deaths in women per year,” according to a health department press release. That number rose from 2000 to 2009, with an average of 152 female deaths and 149 male deaths. The most recent data showed that an average of 177 women and 172 men die every year from the disease.

“One reason we may be seeing an increase in lung cancer diagnoses among women is that historically women as a population started smoking later,” health department official Joe Grandpre said in a statement. “American men started smoking just before and during World War II with a peak of about 55 percent of men smoking around 1955.

“American women did not start smoking until the later 1950s and early 1960s, peaking at around 33 percent in about 1968,” he continued.

Deti said the deaths may be rising as that generation of heavier smokers begins to grapple with the habit’s related health effects.

A report by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network released last year ranked Wyoming in the bottom half of U.S. states for its cancer-fighting efforts, partially due to the state’s low cigarette tax rate and sparse smoke-free laws. Wyoming’s current tax is 60 cents per pack, one of the lowest in the nation and a dollar below the national average.

A separate study ranked Wyoming 34th in the nation for smoking rates.

While deaths and internal disease are well-known effects of chronic smoking, what may be less well known is the impact on dental health. Data from 2016 showed that 24.7 percent of adults over 45 have lost six teeth “due to gum disease or tooth decay,” according to the department. Forty-four percent of those were smokers. For older adults, those over 65, almost 18 percent have lost all of their teeth. More than 39 percent were smokers.

Follow education reporter Seth Klamann on Twitter @SethKlamann

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Education and Health Reporter

Seth Klamann joined the Star-Tribune in 2016 and covers education and health. A 2015 graduate of the University of Missouri and proud Kansas City native, Seth worked for newspapers in Milwaukee and Omaha before coming to Casper.

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