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NEWS Improving and Protecting the Health, Well-Being
and Self-Reliance of All Montanans.

February 03, 2014


Jon Ebelt, Public Information Officer, DPHHS, (406) 444-0936
Chuck Council, Communications Specialist, DPHHS, (406) 444-4391

Montana has made tremendous progress in reducing tobacco use

By Steven Helgerson, MD, MPH
State Medical Officer

Montana health advocates are celebrating the enormous progress that has been made in reducing tobacco use over the past five decades, but also calling on all Montanans to take strong action to win the fight against what continues to be the nation's number one cause of preventable death. More than 1,000 Americans, including 3 to 4 Montanans die prematurely every day as a result of tobacco-related disease.

The first Surgeon General's report, issued 50 years ago, alerted Americans to the deadly consequences of smoking and was a historic turning point in the nation's fight against tobacco.

Since that time, Montana has made remarkable progress, cutting smoking rates by more than half and protecting Montanans from harmful secondhand smoke. Montanans went from smoking more than 120 packs of cigarettes per person per year in 1955 to approximately 45 packs per person per year in 2012, a decrease by almost two-thirds in total consumption.

Smoking among students has also decreased significantly due to several important evidence-based prevention strategies, such as the Montana Clean Indoor Air Act, cigarette tax increases, media campaigns denormalizing tobacco use, and community-based prevention programs. In 1999, 35 percent of Montana high school students smoked. In 2013, the still-too-high percent was down to 15.

But Montanans' battle against tobacco is far from over.  The tobacco industry still spends an estimated $27 million per year to market its deadly and addictive products in our state, often in ways that appeal to kids. As a result, 700 more kids in Montana become regular smokers each year. Tobacco annually claims 1,400 lives and costs the state $277 million in health care costs.  

Public health and medical organizations are calling for bold action by all levels of government to achieve three goals: 1) Reduce smoking rates to less than 10 percent within 10 years; 2) protect all Americans from secondhand smoke within five years; and 3) ultimately eliminate the death and disease caused by tobacco.

What can Montanans do to achieve these goals?

  • They can quit tobacco, with the help of the Montana Tobacco Quit Line.
  • Almost three-fourths of Montana school districts are comprehensive tobacco free. Remaining districts can become Comprehensive Tobacco Free Schools of Excellence.
  • Owners and managers of apartment buildings can adopt smokefree policies in their buildings, to protect their residents from the deadly effect of secondhand smoke.

The Montana Tobacco Use Prevention Program is available to assist and educate on any of these topics. Please visit our website at www.tobaccofree.mt.gov.

Our country has made tremendous progress in reducing smoking. Montana should be the first state in the nation to reduce the smoking rate not just to under 10 percent but to less than 5 percent. This achievement would stop tobacco from continuing to addict, maim and kill Montanans. It would also yield enormous cost savings. Resources not spent on preventable disease and death could instead be used to enhance in many ways the lives of Montanans.

Remember, if you would like help quitting tobacco, the Montana Tobacco Quit Line is there for you.  Over 70,000 Montanans have called into the Quit Line since 2004.  Benefits include a FREE personalized quit plan; FREE coaching calls, FREE educational materials, and enrolled callers may be eligible for up to 8 weeks of FREE nicotine replacement therapy or discounted cessation medications.  People can call the Quit Line at 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-794-8669) or visit www.QuitNowMontana.com to enroll for these FREE services.

Steven Helgerson, MD, MPH, is the State Medical Officer for the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services.

Page last updated 02/03/2014