Having a cigarette at the Inner Harbor, Jack Myers, 41, of Hagerstown… (Baltimore Sun photo by Lloyd…)
Maryland is among several states whose efforts to curb smoking have apparently paid off - even as the nationwide percentage of smokers has stayed constant over the past five years.
At about 15 percent, the state has the fourth-lowest percentage of adult smokers in the United States, according to a study released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A similar study released by the agency says that nearly 21 percent of Americans were smokers last year, a number virtually unchanged since 2004.
Maryland's success in reducing smoking comes 10 years after the state created the Cigarette Restitution Fund, a repository for money from part of the $206 billion lawsuit settlement that 46 states and U.S. territories received from the tobacco industry. The state implemented several programs to help smokers kick the habit and keep young people from starting it.
Dr. Matthew McKenna, director of the CDC's Office on Smoking and Health, said Maryland and some other states relied on such infusions of money during the 1990s to launch prevention and cessation programs, and they are seeing results now.
"Maryland used to have a strong tobacco industry, but it's gone away quite a bit," he said. "They've made a major investment in tobacco-control efforts."
Maryland's smoking population, which stood at nearly 20 percent in 2004, has decreased in each of the past five years, the CDC says.
That's in contrast to national percentages, which McKenna said have remained steady in part because funding for cessation and prevention programs has tapered off. Some states - particularly tobacco-growing states - have done little to curb smoking, he added. Among states, the percentage of adult smokers ranges from Utah, about 9 percent, to West Virginia, nearly 27 percent.
Due in part to restitution fund programs, smoking among Baltimore youths has fallen as well, said Richard Matens, a city Health Department official.
He noted that in a state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene study of public middle and high school students, 15.5 percent of city students reported using tobacco products within a 30-day period in 2006, the most recent year figures were available. That was down from just over 20 percent in 2000.
Across Maryland, 15.6 percent of students reported using tobacco products within the same period in 2006, down from just over 21 percent in 2000.
The report also showed that in 2006, about 14 percent of Baltimore students had begun using tobacco within the past year. In 2000, the number stood at 19 percent. Statewide percentages were similar for both years.
"In the 1990s, there were infusions of money and efforts, and the increases of adolescents using cigarettes slowed down," McKenna of the CDC said. "The problem is how money has been allocated from state to state. Some did a good job in getting their rates down. Others haven't done anything."
Among the programs launched in Baltimore is SmokeFree Baltimore Tour Bus, a vehicle with an interior decorated with displays, demonstrations and other items that encourage people to stop smoking. The bus travels to schools and community events throughout the city.
Jazmine Rhodes, 16, visited the bus during a recent stop at Patterson High School.
"It showed that there are more than 4,000 chemicals in cigarettes; some come from rat poison and fingernail polish," she said.
In addition to Maryland's other programs, the 2007 statewide ban on smoking in places of business was an important milestone. And in August, when Towson University becomes the state's first four-year college to become smoke-free, smokers will have even fewer places to light up.
Yet Matens, assistant commissioner for the city health department's division of chronic disease prevention, said Baltimore has seen a 75 percent decrease in Cigarette Restitution Fund allocations for this fiscal year and next.
"We've gone from receiving $1.2 million to about $200,000 and change," he said. "We're concerned. We hope that the two-year gap doesn't have an impact on what we're doing."
Matens said the city is seeking a CDC grant that would more than offset the losses. The grant, part of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, would give the city about $9 million for cessation and prevention programs for two years.
Matens said city officials want funding to maintain the momentum of anti-smoking programs. "We've made really strong strides, and it's a hard thing to curb. It's hard to kick the habit."
Joan Stine, director of the state's center for health promotion, education and tobacco use prevention, said Maryland's anti-smoking measures have led many smokers to at least try to quit.
"The cigarette tax is huge, and so is the ban that limits where people can smoke," she said. "When people see those things happen, it drives them to call our Quit Line."
The effects of the 2007 smoking ban known as the Clean Indoor Air Act can be seen around the Inner Harbor, where restaurants and bars were once filled with smokers.