The Medical University of South Carolina hosted a one-day retreat last week entitled, “Making Tobacco History: Accelerating Efforts to Reduce Harm Caused by Tobacco.”
Associate Professor of Public Health Sciences at MUSC Dr. Cathy Melvin says while South Carolina has made strides in getting more people to quit, more has to be done from a public policy standpoint to effectively accelerate the process. Melvin stressed that raising the excise tax on cigarettes has worked to curb smoking by adults and young people 12-17 in a number of states because it makes the product more expensive. She points out that South Carolina’s cigarette tax is 57 cents per pack compared to the national average of $1.54.
“We are ranked 42nd in where our taxes are,” she told South Carolina Radio Network. “If we were able to raise that tax, we could significantly decrease the number of people who start using tobacco every year and people who continue to use tobacco every year.”
Melvin said it is important to note that for every dollar the state collects from the sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products, it costs every household about $7 to cover the medical bills associated with the treatment of tobacco-related illnesses, including cancer and heart disease.
The scientific retreat on tobacco use included doctors and health researchers from across the nation. Melvin said research indicates that states that have implemented a statewide ban on smoking in public places have seen dramatic drops in smoking related illnesses including cardiovascular disease and its adverse effects.
“So absolutely reducing exposure of citizens across South Carolina through a statewide ban on smoking in public places like restaurants, bars and workplaces would have immediate, lasting effects for a lot of people here in South Carolina,” she said.
Numerous towns, cities, and counties in South Carolina (including Columbia, Charleston, and Greenville) have some form of a smoke-free law for public places, but there is currently no statewide ban.
Melvin said changes to public policy will not alone get people to quit, noting that nicotine is one of the most, if not they most addictive substance that we are exposed to. She said South Carolina needs a greater variety of smoking cessation programs and other help to get people to quit.
Melvin said in the 50-year history of the Surgeon General’s reports, the rate of smoking in the U.S. has declined by 59 percent. However , she said the tobacco industry has strategically targeted the youth market in an effort to attract new customers to use their products. Melvin says counter messaging is out there to help steer young people away from tobacco use.
“We have a lot of good counter marketing here in South Carolina which help youth and others understand that adverse effects of tobacco, exposes the marketing techniques used by the tobacco industry, and helps young people understand the choice they can make to not smoke and to have a healthier lifestyle.”