West Virginia worst state for smoking, task force seeks $16.5 million in funding to change that

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CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) According to the American Lung Association, West Virginia is the worst state in the nation when it comes to smoking. It is also among the worst states when it comes to new lung cancer cases and screening. But as a result of H.B. 4494, a statewide task force spent the last year looking at recommendations to change all that.

Close to 24% of adults in West Virginia use tobacco compared to the national average of around 14%.

The Tobacco Use Prevention and Cessation Task Force says more money has to be spent to address the growing problem.

“It is very hard. I’ve been smoking over 17 years,” said Brandon Calloway. He said when it comes to smoking he isn’t ready to quit the habit. “This helps me,” he said gesturing to the cigarette in this hand. “You know like stressful things, stressful times and right now everything is stressful because of COVID-19. I don’t really want to quit.”

Dwight McGarity said he’s tried but hasn’t found a program that works for him. “I was getting to the point that I was getting old you know and my lungs you know I’ve been smoking probably 30 years,” he said.

The task force has spent the last year looking for solutions to help people like Calloway and McGarity quit. Task Force leaders presented the final report Sunday during Interim Committee meetings. Dr. Susan Morgan summarized the key points made during the presentation.

“So the Quitline having increased funding, increased training of tobacco treatment specialists and then locating these specialists at strategic locations throughout West Virginia so that we can start helping to address the 70% of people who want to quit smoking and they are just not able to,” Dr. Morgan said.

The task force is calling for $16.5 million to be used to reduce tobacco use. They are also asking for an increased tax on all tobacco products. That is something Calloway said could deter him.

“It might because the price has already went up on cigarettes,” he said.

Task Force leaders are hoping the report leads to progress.

“I think everyone who worked very hard and spent many hours reviewing a lot of documents and going through a lot of information is hoping that it is well received,” Dr. Morgan said. “I hope that we can move forward with helping people who want to stop smoking.”

Task Force members say annually in West Virginia 4,300 deaths are caused by smoking.

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