Smoking down in Illinois, but not evenly
CHAMPAIGN — Smoking has declined in Illinois, but not all counties are seeing the same kinds of reductions in the number of people lighting up, new research has found.
There were marked differences throughout the state in the numbers of people who smoke, with the rates in counties ranging from nearly 15 percent on the low end in DuPage County to nearly 28 percent in Alexander County.
Champaign County had one of the lowest rates, at just over 17 percent, and Vermilion County had one of the highest at nearly 27 percent.
The research, released by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, looked at both the overall prevalence of smoking, which included just social smokers, and daily smoking in all U.S. counties from 1996 to 2012. It found smoking has declined nationally, mostly in the last decade, but there were dramatic differences among communities, with the most significant smoking declines seen in more affluent counties and larger population centers.
Three-fourths of men and two-thirds of women in the U.S. live in counties that saw significant declines in smoking prevalence, but only because a small group of counties accounts for a large share of the population, researchers found.
The percentage of Illinoisans who smoke fell from nearly 25 percent in 1996 to just under 20 percent in 2012.
The researchers used self-reported data for 4.7 million adults ages 18 and older from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, an ongoing telephone health survey. They also made adjustments to account for some factors, among them to correct a bias for the number of wireless-only households that can't be reached by land line for data collection, according to Institute spokesman William Heisel.
Champaign County's proportion of daily smoking was also among the state's lowest, and lower than the state average at both the beginning and end point of the study — 15.8 percent in 1996 compared to the state's 20.18 percent, and 11.3 percent in 2012 compared to the state's 13.68 percent.
Daily smoking also fell in Vermilion County, but started at a higher point, dropping from 24.6 percent to 20.6 percent.
Nikki Hillier, wellness and health program coordinator at the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District, says health experts have seen a decline in smoking among youths ages 12-17, but a rise in smoking among young adults ages 18-25.
That increase may include more social smoking, she says, but social smoking also damages a smoker's body.
"Smoking is smoking, even if they are not doing it every day," she said.
Jenny Trimmell, administrator of the Vermilion County Health Department, said the smoking rates in that county are a concern but "locally, we don't have a lot of resources for people."
The Champaign-Urbana Public Health District runs smoking cessation classes about twice a year, Hillier said, but Trimmell said her department hasn't been able to provide cessation classes for the Danville area for the past several years.
"With our downsizing in 2010, that was one of the things we had to let go," she said.
The Vermilion County Health Department refers people looking to quit smoking to the Illinois Tobacco Quitline, a free information and support resource for people trying to quit smoking that is available seven days a week, days and evenings at quityes.org.
The DeWitt Piatt Bi-County Health Department does the same, says its administrator David Remmert.
His department also no longer offers smoking cessation classes, he said, because it's hard to get people to come to a class, and the Quitline — open until 11 p.m. for help — tends to be more convenient for those looking for help at times convenient for them.
Both DeWitt and Piatt counties have seen declines in smoking, though they remained over the state average in 2012. The percentage of people who smoke in Piatt County over the 16-year period fell from 24.4 to about 20.8 percent, and in DeWitt County from 28.5 to just over 24 percent.
Remmert said his department enforces smoking bans in bars as resources allow, and has some enforcement actions currently pending against bar owners.
But his department also turned down a tobacco-free community grant this year because the state lagged behind on paying last year for the grant services provided, he said.
The grant would have allowed for more enforcement and offered education about smoking in the school.
"It makes it especially hard for us to operate when we don't get paid on time," Remmert said. "It's about $30,000, and for a small agency like ours, that's a significant amount of money."
How smoky is your county?
A snapshot of the number of adults 18 and older who smoked every day and those who engaged in any smoking at all in 2012, from a study by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.