OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday that tobacco remains the leading cause of preventable death in Oklahoma and nationwide, even with the number of smokers rapidly declining.
In an address at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Dr. Thomas Frieden said the number of adult smokers in the United States is the lowest ever documented and there are 4 million fewer smokers today than just five years ago.
However, Frieden said the nation has experienced a big increase in heart disease and stroke in recent years, conditions often linked to smoking among other factors, such as high blood pressure and obesity.
The state Department of Health says Oklahoma has one of the highest percentages of smoking-related deaths in the nation, and tobacco use causes the premature deaths of about 5,800 Oklahomans each year.
"We are living in the midst of a huge increase in cardiovascular morbidity and mortality," Frieden said during an address at the. "Tobacco is the No. 1 cause of preventable death in the country. We know it's killing people."
The number of smokers in the nation has dropped at an annual rate of 4.4 percent since 2009, in part due to the adoption of smoke-free laws in various states and cities as well as anti-smoking advertising campaigns that Frieden said "pull back the curtain on the examination room" and graphically illustrate the affect smoking has had on former smokers.
"As doctors, when we think about smoking, we think about the suffering that we see," Frieden said.
More than 26 percent of adults in Oklahoma smoke, and the state has one of the highest smoking rates in the country. The state Health Department estimates that the direct and indirect costs of tobacco use in Oklahoma exceed $2 billion a year.
Statistics provided by the United Health Foundation show the state ranks high in the number of cancer and cardiovascular deaths. The state averages about 200 cancer deaths per 100,000 residents, but the rate of cardiovascular deaths is 330 per 100,000 residents — 48th in the nation.
Under current Oklahoma law, smoking is not allowed in most indoor public places, but some exceptions include private offices, bars and restaurants with separately ventilated smoking rooms. Cities and towns are prohibited from enacting stricter smoking bans than those already in state law.
In February, Gov. Mary Fallin endorsed a plan for a statewide vote next year on tighter smoking restrictions, including efforts to reduce exposure to secondhand smoke, after a state Senate committee rejected a bill she supported to allow cities and towns enact stricter smoking bans than exist in state law.
But the state has adopted other programs to counter the harmful effects of smoking including the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust Fund, created in 2000 after the state settled a lawsuit against big tobacco companies. The fund promotes smoking cessation programs and others that improve the health of Oklahomans and fund cancer and addiction research.
"Oklahomans want to have effective programs," Frieden said.
He said the CDC has set a goal of preventing a million heart attacks and strokes over the next 5 years.
"All of this is a core mission for public health," he said.