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New W.Va. smoking numbers: less than previously thought

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Just under a quarter of West Virginia adults smoke.

That's less than previously believed. The information comes from new data assembled by researchers in West Virginia University's School of Public Health, in collaboration with the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health's Division of Tobacco Prevention.

The assessment revealed a 23.9 percent overall smoking rate statewide.

"The findings were surprisingly and pleasantly lower than expectations," said Bruce Adkins, director for the Division of Tobacco Prevention. "Because of sustained statewide prevention and cessation efforts, the lower prevalence could be the beginning of a downward trend for cigarette smoking."

For the first time the West Virginia Adult Tobacco Survey, or WVATS, collected tobacco use data concerning adults who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, or LGBT, and the results reflect a well-accepted view among public health professionals: there are far more LGBT smokers than in the general population. Nearly 41 percent of those identifying as LGBT smoke.

"We have established the principle that one's sexual orientation is important to measure," said Robert Anderson, investigator at the WVU Prevention Research Center.

Adults aged 25 to 34 and people who had not completed high school showed a similarly high rate. When the data was examined by gender, men were found to be a little more likely than women to use cigarettes.

The WVATS was conducted over the first four months of 2012.

A total of 2,132 adults were surveyed by telephone. Responses were weighted to represent the entire adult population of West Virginia. The latest WVATS sampling strategy differs in a major way from earlier surveys, since it added a sample of adults who have only a cell phone. This presents a more accurate estimate of statewide tobacco use. The new WVATS numbers will now serve as baseline measurements for future studies.

"We are not able to make any claim about trends," continued Anderson. "That is due to the fact that the sampling strategy differs in a major way from earlier surveys, since we added a sample of adults who only have a cell phone. We believe this presents a more accurate view of statewide tobacco use."

A brief report detailing the WVU Prevention Research Center's findings in greater detail is available for download.