About 20 percent of South Carolina adults smoke cigarettes, which is higher than the 15 percent of adult smokers nationwide who do.
The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network said it has concerns the tobacco industry spends $181 million a year to market its products in South Carolina.
“In South Carolina we have some pretty staggering numbers,” Government Relations Director Beth Johnson said.
About 9.6 percent of high school kids smoke in South Carolina, which amounts to about 24,500 teens overall. The national rate is 8 percent, the group said.
One-third of cancer deaths in South Carolina are related to smoking, according to ACS. Smoking-related deaths and illnesses cost the state about $1.9 billion a year, Johnson said. She broke down that cost for each state resident.
“I thought, ‘Well how much does that cost me and my household here?’ And that costs me roughly $900 a year to pay for other folks who smoke and cause damage to their health,” she said.
Yet despite the numbers, there is help. Johnson said the state provides funding for programs that help people give up cigarettes.
“We do have some funding for a program run through our state health department, DHEC, that helps people quit smoking,” she said. “We can make progress.”
Tobacco companies have begun airing what are being described as “corrective statements” about the health dangers of smoking. The spots are in response to a court order stemming from a 1999 lawsuit.
“They’re coming clean at having to say… ‘We actually created this cigarette with just enough nicotine to make it addictive and we did that on purpose,'” Johnson said. “It’s significant because tobacco companies finally have to come forward with the truth in saying, ‘Look, we lied to you guys. These products are addictive. They are deadly. They can kill.'”
The 2006 judgment found the tobacco companies had violated civil racketeering laws and defrauded the American people by lying for decades about the health effects of smoking and their marketing to children.
Johnson said the “corrective statements” took nine years because the tobacco companies were particular about word selection.
“The tobacco companies have been back and forth with the language of what they had to come forward with,” she said.
Johnson said the South Carolina chapter of the ACSCAN plans to request legislators raise the cigarette tax in the next legislative session. South Carolina currently ranks 44th in the nation in its level of cigarette tax.