November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, and according to the American Lung Association (ALA), it’s the deadliest cancer for both men and women. In the United States, lung cancer kills more people than the next three most common cancers—colon, breast and pancreatic—combined. The ALA predicts that lung cancer will claim 159,260 American lives in 2014. The disease is responsible for nearly 27% of all cancer deaths. The American Cancer Society predicts that 224,210 new cases of lung cancer will be diagnosed in 2014 alone.
The analysts at WalletHub, the leading personal finance social network, examined data from every state and the District of Columbia in order to determine which states are doing the most and least to combat the deadly disease. Overall, Alabama ranked 50th in the nation when it comes to fighting and preventing the disease. Unfortunately, this isn’t one of those times when the higher number is good and the lower number is bad.
In 2012 the Alabama Department of Public Health released a report quantifying cancer’s impact in Alabama. It’s the second most common killer in the state, surpassed only by heart disease. “The lung cancer incidence rate in Alabama is 76.2–higher than the U.S. rate of 67.3,” the report says. “The lung cancer mortality rate in Alabama is 61.8 – higher than the U.S. rate of 51.6.”
The main reason Alabama has a higher incidence rate of lung cancer than the rest of the nation is because both adults and youth in Alabama are more likely to use tobacco. According to the ADPH, “While 24.3% of Alabama adults and 22.9% of Alabama youth smoke, the national averages are 21.2% and 18.1%, respectively.”
Tobacco use is, without a doubt, the single greatest indicator of whether or not someone will develop lung cancer. The CDC says 90% of lung cancer cases are directly linked to smoking. “People who smoke cigarettes are 15 to 30 times more likely to get lung cancer or die from lung cancer than people who do not smoke,” says the CDC. “Even smoking a few cigarettes a day or smoking occasionally increases the risk of lung cancer.”
Simply put: There’s no such thing as safe smoking.
The University of Alabama made headlines earlier this month when it announced a strict no-smoking policy that will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2015. The policy says, “Smoking is prohibited at all times and at all locations on The University of Alabama campus, including University-owned and leased facilities, properties, and grounds.” Electronic cigarettes are banned, too.
In addition to smoking bans, some states are piling on the “sin taxes” to discourage tobacco use. The five states with the most expensive cigarettes–Alaska, New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts–were all ranked within the top 15 overall in the lung cancer study. “Youth are the most responsive to rising cigarette excise taxes,” says Michael Pesko, the assistant professor of healthcare policy and research at Weill Cornell Medical College. “Higher cigarette excise taxes have a large positive impact in discouraging youth from ever initiating smoking to begin with.”
Yellowhammer warned earlier this year that Alabama’s budget woes are likely to renew calls for sin tax hikes.
Polling often shows that a significant percentage of Alabamians actually favor raising taxes on cigarettes to bring in more revenue. However, when asked if a cigarette tax hike would mean Republicans broke their pledge not to raise taxes, the vast majority of Alabamians say it would. That puts Republicans in a tough spot politically.
Check out all of WalletHub’s statistics on Alabama below and see where the Yellowhammer State ranks: