JONESBORO -- The state received low grades from the American Lung Association in terms of residents' tobacco use, impacting Northeast Arkansans health.

Arkansas received an F in tobacco prevention and cessation funding, a C in smoke-free air, an F in tobacco taxes, an F in access to cessation services and a C in the minimum age of sale for tobacco products, according to the American Lung Association report.

In Craighead County, about 29% of people smoke, according to 2018 county estimates. The county has 23,238 smokers. That proportion of smokers is fairly common throughout Arkansas.

Rural areas experience more traditional tobacco use, such as cigarettes, while in urban areas, there is more e-cigarette use, said Joe Thompson, the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement president and CEO.

Thompson said one in four Arkansans use tobacco, and one in five Arkansas high schoolers vape.

At St. Bernards Medical Center, Joshua Morrison, a pulmonologist, works to inform his patients about the dangers of smoking. He said St. Bernards doctors speak with patients about methods to quit smoking and talk to patients who don't smoke as part of a preventative effort to keep them from smoking.

Morrison said there are area organizations that have speakers at schools, discouraging students from picking up the habit.

Tobacco use is so prevalent in the area because people begin smoking in social groups, Morrison said.

"It's just something to do for acceptance," Morrison said.

Tobacco companies also target areas with low levels of education, which has historically been a problem for Arkansans, Thompson said.

Once people begin using tobacco products, it's incredibly difficult to quit, Morrison said.

"It is as addicting as cocaine," Thompson said.

Thompson is pushing for state legislators to add e-cigarettes to the Clean Indoor Air Act, raise taxes on tobacco products, add taxes to vaping products, eliminate flavors marketed to kids and prevent ads from being displayed around schools.

"All of those things are things we need to do to keep the next generation of youth from becoming nicotine addicts," Thompson said.

State law bars communities from enacting local laws against vaping, Thompson said.

"This really does fall at the feet of the governor and the General Assembly," Thompson said.

The American Lung Association also recommends the state enact these measures. The report states that Arkansas should add a dollar to taxes per pack.

Health problems associated with tobacco use include lung and colon cancer, high blood pressure, COPD, worsened asthma and scar tissue on the lungs, Morrison said.

Supplements to help people quit smoking exist, such as patches, gum and prescriptions. But Morrison said they aren't very effective. Chantix, a prescription that helps people quit, is only about 30% effective.

But having an accountability partner or quitting tobacco use with another person has proven to up people's chances of success, Morrison said.

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