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A Healthy State, But More To Do

Cigarette taxes work State improved its nationwide health ranking in part by going after tobacco

Hartford Courant Editorial

December 14, 2010

Connecticut can take pride in its improved ranking as the fourth healthiest state in the nation, up from No. 7 last year.

But the latest edition of America's Health Rankings the also shows there is room for improvement.

The rankings are done by the United Health Foundation, American Public Health Association and Partnership for Prevention using data from sources that include the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Commerce, Education and Labor.

The good news is that the prevalence of smoking adults in Connecticut declined to 15 percent this year, from 23 percent a decade years ago. Contrast this with last-place, tobacco-farming Kentucky, where more than a quarter of adults smoke. Connecticut has prodded more smokers to kick the dirty habit by imposing one of the highest sales taxes in the nation on cigarettes, adopting clean indoor air legislation and supporting smoking cessation programs.

Where We Do Well

Connecticut is second-best in the nation in terms of keeping obesity at bay. The Nutmeg State also can boast about its No. 2 ranking in childhood immunizations. (It doesn't hurt that Connecticut ranks fourth in the nation in doctors per capita.)

Happily surprisingly, though, for the state whose cities keep landing on lists of "poorest," Connecticut ranks lowest of all states in the percentage of children in poverty, at just 10 percent. (Contrast that with last-place Mississippi, where nearly one-third of children live in poverty.)

This contradiction is explained by the wealth of largely suburban Connecticut, especially Fairfield County, vs. the concentrated poverty of small cities with historically tight boundaries, such as Hartford, with 125,000 people, many of them low-income, packed into 18 square miles.

And Not So Well

But not all the news was rosy. Residents ought to be embarrassed at the state's No. 40 ranking in binge drinking, with nearly 18 percent of adults consuming multiple drinks (at least four for a woman or five for a man) at one sitting at least once in the past 30 days.

The state with the best record was Utah, with its many teetotaling Mormons and 8.6 percent binge drinkers, compared with Wisconsin's worst-in-the-nation record of 23.2 percent.

Binge drinking is nothing to laugh at. Abusers too often get behind the wheel and recklessly attempt to drive while stoned, endangering the safety of others.

Another area where Connecticut fares poorly is its No. 37 ranking in the prevalence of infectious diseases, defined as AIDS, tuberculosis and hepatitis. Perhaps one reason is that the state ranks a disappointing No. 31 in public health funding. Another likely reason is its relatively large population of high-risk adults, including intravenous drug users.

The state's overall No. 4 ranking puts it just behind Vermont, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Connecticut has made admirable progress, but more can be done to curtail air pollution (the state ranks No. 26) and to reduce deaths from cancer (No. 18) and heart disease (No. 12).

For starters, public and private groups must aggressively push to further reduce the percentage of adults who smoke. One key is to persuade teenagers not to take up the vile habit. Tobacco companies know that they must hook immature youths because very few people start smoking as adults.

Smoking kills more than 400,000 Americans each year. The medical costs associated with tobacco are in the billions of dollars. We can do better.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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