Smoking exacts a terrible toll in lives and health and carries a severe economic price tag. The prevalence of smoking in Virginia is higher than the national average.
Why is This Important?
Smoking harms every organ of the body and can result in a number of serious health problems, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, reproductive troubles, and increased infant mortality. It is also a cause of Type 2 diabetes, as well as a leading contributor to poor overall health. According to a 2014 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 500,000 American adults die prematurely each year because of smoking. Annually, the total economic costs due to tobacco are over $289 billion.
The United States has taken great strides in reducing smoking and tobacco use rates over the past 50 years, which are down by over 50 percent from when the first Surgeon General's report on the issue was released in 1964. But progress has been uneven in recent years, perhaps due to the stress of the Great Recession and beyond. The CDC projects that, if our current trajectory on tobacco use continues, 5.6 million children alive today who are younger than 18 years of age will die prematurely as a result.
How is Virginia Doing?
In 2014, Virginia's adult smoking rate actually rose slightly and at 19.5 percent was higher than the national average (18.1%), ranking the state 31st. The percentage of people smoking in Virginia in 2014 was lower than in Tennessee (24.2%), but higher than in North Carolina (19.1%) or Maryland (14.6%). Utah was the leading state with a smoking rate of just 9.7 percent.
The Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth recently reported that the percentage of high school students in Virginia who are regular smokers has declined by more than 55 percent since 2001 -- from 28.6 percent to 11.1 percent in 2013. However, 2014 data from the CDC's Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) indicates that smoking rates have risen markedly among the state's 18-24 year olds, up to 23.1 percent from 18.7 percent in 2013.
What Influences Smoking?
Long-term data indicates that the higher one's educational attainment and income (and to some degree, age), the lower the prevalence of smoking becomes. In 2014:
- Smoking prevalence was highest in Virginia among those aged 18-24 (23.1%) and 25-34 (24.4%), while those aged 65 and older had the lowest smoking rates (9.5%).
- Only 12.9 percent of people with incomes of $50,000 or more smoked, while 38.9 percent of people with incomes less than $15,000 did.
- Income levels track very closely with levels of education; thus we find that among Virginians with a college degree, just 8.3 percent smoked, while those with less than a high school diploma had a smoking rate of 36.8 percent.
- Although long-term patterns held in 2014, smoking rates actually rose among many groups in Virginia, including those with high incomes. The sharpest increases were found in the 18-24 and 25-44 age groups; among those with less than a high school diploma; and with those earning less than $15,000 a year.
What is the State's Role?
The state can influence smoking behaviors in a variety of ways:
- increase taxes on tobacco products and ban smoking in proscribed areas
- create public education programs about the risks of tobacco use
- support smoking cessation programs
- mobilize communities to identify and reduce the commercial availability of tobacco products to youth
- place restrictions on advertising aimed at young people.
All of these strategies have in fact been used to great effect in reducing smoking rates nationwide. Virginia has banned smoking in many public places, including schools, government offices, hospitals, and restaurants (though these may offer a separate, ventilated area for smokers); following this lead, many privately held establishments have enacted similar bans.
State rankings are ordered so that #1 is understood to be the best.
Data and Definitions
Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention
Risk Factor Surveillance
NOTE: BRFSS changed its sampling methodology in 2011; because of this, results from years prior to 2011 are not comparable.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2014 Surgeon General's Report: The Health Consequences of Smoking -- 50 Years of Progress
The Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth, www.vfhy.org/statistics/tobacco/numbers
See the Data Sources and Updates Calendar for a detailed list of the data resources used for indicator measures on Virginia Performs.