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FOR RELEASE: March 27, 2001
CONTACT: Dick Gunn
405/271-5601

Tobacco Leading Cause of Early Death Among Oklahoma Women – Rates Increasing

State health officials reported new state data today on trends in the rates of tobacco-caused deaths among Oklahoma women as compared with national rates. The data was published in conjunction with today's national release by U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher of Women and Smoking: A Report of the Surgeon General that provides an overview of problems and solutions of smoking among women and girls in the United States.

The Oklahoma data are also compared to tobacco-caused death rates in the State of California, where a comprehensive statewide effort to reduce tobacco use was implemented in 1989.

Since 1988, deaths among women due to lung cancer have risen 19.6 percent in Oklahoma compared to a national increase of 17.6 percent and a decrease in California of 2.8 percent. Deaths due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in Oklahoma increased 49 percent, compared to an increase in the national rate of 34.5 percent and an increase in the California rate of only 12.5 percent. Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer deaths in the U.S. for both women and men. Cigarette smoking is responsible for 87 percent of all lung cancer deaths, and accounts for 30 percent of all cancer deaths. Smoking is responsible for 82 percent of all COPD deaths.

Oklahoma also lags behind the national average in reducing cardiovascular disease (CVD) deaths among women. The data revealed that, since 1988, CVD deaths decreased by only 9.8 percent in Oklahoma compared to 19.6 percent nationally and 22.0 percent in California. Cigarette smoking is the single greatest risk factor for sudden cardiac death; smokers have two to four times the risk of nonsmokers. About 20 percent of all deaths from cardiovascular diseases are attributable to smoking.

Tobacco use among women during pregnancy causes increased risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, pre-term delivery, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and low birth weight (LBW). Babies that are born too small account for two-thirds of all deaths in the neonatal period.

In 1988, the voters of California approved an initiative to raise tobacco taxes by 25 cents and to allocate 5 cents of the new tax for a comprehensive tobacco use prevention and cessation program. Per capita consumption of cigarettes in California declined from 126.6 packs per year in 1988 to 61.3 packs per year in 1999. Smoking prevalence among adults decreased from 22.6 percent in 1988 to 18.7 percent in 1999.

Since 1988, tobacco use among Oklahoma adults has remained essentially constant at about 25 percent. Per capita consumption of cigarettes in Oklahoma is currently 112 packs per person per year compared to a national consumption rate of 86 packs per person per year.

Tobacco addiction is Oklahoma's leading cause of preventable death, killing an estimated 6,000 Oklahomans each year, more than from homicides, suicides, AIDS, alcohol, illegal drugs and car accidents combined. About 2,100 of those deaths are women. Economic costs related to tobacco addiction in Oklahoma exceed $1 billion annually. Three out of four adult smokers and one-half of youth smokers in Oklahoma want to quit smoking.

“It's never too late to quit smoking,” said Doug Matheny, Director of the Office of Tobacco Use Prevention at the state health department. “Smoking cessation assistance—including a toll-free smokers quitline—is as cost-effective as are other medical interventions such as mammography and treatment of high blood pressure. Unfortunately, Oklahoman women do not receive the assistance in quitting tobacco afforded women and girls in California, Arizona, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, Oregon and other states. Further, public policy in Oklahoma does little to discourage smoking or to reduce the onset of addiction among girls.”

Quitting results in immediate health benefits for both light and heavy smokers, including improvements in breathing and circulation. The excess risk of coronary heart disease is substantially reduced after only one or two years. The increased risk for stroke associated with smoking is reversible after quitting. When smokers quit, their lungs begin to heal and their risk of lung disease drops. Smoking cessation also improves quality of life and physical functioning.

“The tobacco industry outspends Oklahoma by 25 to one and fights needed changes in public policy,” said Matheny. “Proven community-based programs and critical reforms in our policies are needed if we are to effectively deglamorize and discourage tobacco use in Oklahoma. Until such action is taken, we will continue to see high rates of preventable deaths.”

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