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Smoking Rates Linked to Education and Cigarette Taxes

States with a highly educated populace and higher taxes on cigarettes have fewer smokers, according to a new Gallup study of poll data.

The study found that one out of five American adults smoke, a number that has held relatively steady in recent years. Utah had the fewest smokers, at just 13 percent, while Kentucky and West Virginia tied for first place at 31 percent.

The South and Midwest dominated in smoker-heavy states. Besides Kentucky and West Virginia, Tennessee, Indiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Ohio, Louisiana, South Carolina and Alabama all had populations in which 25 percent or more people smoked. States that were under the national smoking average of 21 percent included: California, Idaho, Montana, the District of Columbia, New Jersey, Minnesota, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Arizona and Maryland.

Higher rates of smoking correlated with lower rates of formal education, according to the Gallup organization. West Virginia, Kentucky, Arkansas, Indiana, Tennessee and Oklahoma, for example, are all states where fewer than 25 percent of residents have college degrees. Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey and the District of Columbia, all areas with high rates of education, had some of the lowest rates of smoking.

Cigarette taxes are also associated with low smoking rates, though it's not clear whether taxes discourage smoking or whether states with fewer smokers are more likely to pass high cigarette taxes. In states where smoking was well above average, the average state cigarette tax was $0.66 a pack. In average states, it was $1.59, and in below-average states, it was $2.02.

The only exceptions to the rule were the well-below average states for smoking, Utah and California, where the average cigarette tax is on the low end — $0.78. Utah's 13 percent smoking rate could be explained by high rates of Mormonism, which forbids smoking, Gallup suggested. The poll can't explain California's 16 percent rate.

States that discourage smoking with regulations against smoking in public places also had lower smoking rates, but again, pollsters can't say whether anti-smoking policies discourage smokers or whether such laws are easier to pass in states without many smokers.

The findings, released Aug. 26, are based on Gallup-Healthways Well Being Index data from 2009. Phone interviews were conducted with a national sample of 353,849 employed adults. The margin of error is plus or minus 1 percent.

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Live Science Staff
Live Science Staff
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