COVINGTON, Ky. — Once considered Kentucky’s signature industry, tobacco has fallen out of favor with the public in recent years.
But the habit is alive and well in Northern Kentucky where a new study found residents are more likely to be smokers than anywhere else in the state and compared to in the Greater Cincinnati region.
“A pack every two days,” said Bessie Plymesser, a smoker in Covington.
Plymesser calls them "cancer sticks."
“It is hard to give them up. My dad smoked. He had cancer,” Phymesser said.
The 62-year-old started smoking at the age of 16. In the last four decades, she’s tried, struggled, and fought internal battles to quit.
“I tried with Chantix my doctor got me on. It didn’t work. It made me sick. It’s hard to give them up,” Plymesser said.
She used to smoke two cartons back in the day, then went down to two packs, now she’s on a pack every other day. But she’s not the only one.
Stephanie Vogel is with the Northern Kentucky Health Department and part of her job includes community health promotion programs such as tobacco control.
“Northern Kentucky has one of the higher rates of smoking in the region,” Vogel said.
In 2018, Interact For Health conducted a survey on tobacco use behaviors, attitudes, and opinions of adults in the region. This week they released their results.
It shows 32 percent of rural Northern Kentucky counties have the highest percentage of adult smokers. That number drops to 24 percent for Boone, Kenton, or Campbell counties same as the statewide percentage, according to the Truth Initiative.
“Tobacco use is deeply rooted in Kentucky culture and so we believe that continues to play a part in our higher rates and so that data point just validated what we feel like we’ve been seeing,” Vogel said.
Data that will now help Vogel and her team create targeted programs to help drive down the numbers.
Vogel also says 1 in 5 high schoolers reported using e-cigarettes in the past month and slowly becoming regular users.