On behalf of the Virginia Rural Health Association, I am pleased to offer our support for Senator Tim Kaine’s Tobacco Free Youth Act. While reducing tobacco use is important in all communities, the issue is especially troubling in rural America.

As stated by Kimberly Horn, Ed. D. of The George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services, “America’s rural population is one group that is more heavily impacted by tobacco use. People living in rural communities are more likely to use tobacco and they have especially high rates of smokeless tobacco use. Rural Americans are also more likely to be exposed to secondhand smoke and less likely to have access to programs that help them quit smoking.”

A report from the American Lung Association noted that 27.8% of rural residents smoke, compared to 22.7% of urban dwellers. Rural young adults ages 18 to 34 smoke at especially high rates, and are 27% more likely to smoke than their urban counterparts. Additionally, smokeless tobacco use has long been linked with rural life in the public’s mind, and indeed the difference in rates of its use by geography is dramatic. Men are far more likely to use smokeless tobacco and those from rural areas are more than twice as likely to use these products as non-rural. When looked at by age, smokeless tobacco use was more than twice as common in rural areas for every age group.

Because the tobacco industry has long marketed tobacco use as an essential part of the rugged, individualistic mentality necessary for life in rural communities, a multi-pronged approach to reducing nicotine dependence is necessary. Enacting the Tobacco Free Youth Act will be an important part of that process.

For additional information on tobacco use in rural America, I would encourage people to review the American Lung Association’s “Cutting Tobacco’s Rural Roots.”

BETH O'CONNOR

BLACKSBURG

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