The United States of smoking: The state with the most tobacco farms smokes most often

Graphic courtesy U.S. Department of Agriculture
Graphic courtesy U.S. Department of Agriculture

There are more than 16,000 tobacco farms in the United States, about half of them in Kentucky. So perhaps it’s little wonder that Kentucky residents are more likely to smoke than residents of any other state.

Slightly over 30 percent of Kentucky residents smoke, according to a new Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index poll, while 29.9 percent of West Virginians reported smoking. More than a quarter of residents in Mississippi, Oklahoma and Ohio said they smoke, too.

Utah is still the home to the smallest percentage of smokers, due in large part to the state’s large Mormon population. Gallup reported that just 5 percent of Utah’s Mormon population smokes, far below the national average; about 60 percent of Utah residents identify themselves as Mormon. Statewide, 12.2 percent of Utah residents said they smoked.

Fewer than 17 percent of residents in California, Minnesota, Massachusetts and New Jersey smoke, while 17 percent of those in Maryland and Washington said they smoke.

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States with strict smoking bans have seen the percentage of cigarette users drop precipitously in recent years. All 10 of the states with the lowest percentage of smokers ban smoking in the workplace, restaurants and bars. On the other hand, the three states with the highest percentage of smokers — Kentucky, West Virginia and Mississippi — have no statewide smoking bans at all.

Nationally, the smoking rate has fallen by more than half in the last six decades, to 19.7 percent last year. Alaska, Rhode Island and North Dakota saw the steepest drop-offs between 2008 and 2013; more than 5 percent of each state’s population gave up cigarettes during that time.

Though Kentucky has the highest number of tobacco farms, it doesn’t produce the most tobacco. That distinction falls to North Carolina, where the U.S. Census Bureau said more than 170,000 total acres of tobacco were produced in 2007, the last year for which data is available. Kentucky produced 87,000 acres of tobacco that year. North Carolina’s 2,600 tobacco farms are far more likely to be big producers, rather than small farms.

The number of tobacco producers, and acres farmed, has also dropped precipitously. In 1997, the Census Bureau reported 93,530 tobacco farms in the United States. By 2007, that number had dropped 82 percent. The number of acres of tobacco harvested dropped 57 percent over the same decade, according to statistics compiled by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. In the decade between 2002 and 2012, total sales of cigarette packs in the United States declined by almost 31 percent.

Reid Wilson covers state politics and policy for the Washington Post's GovBeat blog. He's a former editor in chief of The Hotline, the premier tip sheet on campaigns and elections, and he's a complete political junkie.
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