JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Putnam County has the highest smoking rate of any Florida county, according to numbers from the state health department's Tobacco Free Florida program.
The statewide smoking rate is 15.5 percent, but Putnam's is 24.89 percent. Other Northeast Florida counties with smoking rates over 21 percent include Bradford, Columbia and Union.
Duval, Clay and Baker counties are below 20 percent but above the state average, while St. Johns County is the only local county below the state average, according to the program's numbers.
INTERACTIVE MAP: How does your county's smoking rate compare?
Nassau County is slightly over the state average at 15.85 percent.
Tobacco use has declined in Florida overall, but 2.5 million adults in Florida still report being smokers, said Jenna Hewett, a tobacco prevention specialist with Tobacco Free Florida.
Hewett said two out of three adult smokers say they wish that they could quit now. She said it takes, on average, eight quit attempts before a smoker can successfully put the cigarettes away for good.
“When we do our community projects, when we do our events that we have, every time we have people come up to us and tell us that if they would have known what impact this was going to have on their life, they would have never started smoking to begin with,” Hewett said. “I think that when we see that it starts between the ages of 11 and 17, that grip starts young, so what we try to do with our program is get into the community and focus on those ages and educate them and empower them to make better choices as far as tobacco is concerned.”
Part of that education is realizing that tobacco sellers target lower-income areas, said Joey O'Hern, a tobacco prevention specialist in Columbia County.
“It's pretty well-known that tobacco companies have gone out of their way to target low-socioeconomic communities,” he said. “Also, I think a big problem is access to health care. In a lot of more rural communities, there aren't a lot of health care options out there for people in comparison to places like St. Johns.”
Tobacco Free Florida has found that tobacco use remains especially high among certain groups, including:
- Racial and ethnic minorities
- Low-income individuals
- The LGBT community
- People with mental health conditions
“In Columbia County, where I work, tobacco is almost a way of life. It's been that way for generations upon generations,” O'Hern said. “That's something our program has tried to counteract is changing those social norms and really educating the communities to where it's no longer something that's like, 'Oh, well, everybody uses tobacco.'”
Both O'Hern and Hewett pointed to the danger of new products that are getting youngsters hooked on smoking.
O'Hern said that the Florida Youth Tobacco Survey, which surveys youth 11 to 17, has seen an annual decline in cigarette use, but that e-cigarette use has skyrocketed.
“There was a time that we sent tobacco products over to our military overseas as a thank you and a reward,” O'Hern said. “Now, we're seeing with this generation with electronic cigarettes, it's a different product and a different generation, but they're being told that product is safe, and they're getting hooked.”
Hewett said tobacco prevention programs are available in all of Florida's counties. For more information, visit TobaccoFreeFlorida.com or call 1-877-U-CAN-NOW.
Interactive map of Northeast Florida smoking rates
Source: Tobacco Free Florida