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Two USM-led studies on rural tobacco use draw press attention

In rural areas such as Maine, people smoke more and quit less, say a pair of USM-led tobacco studies that have drawn both state and national press attention.

One study tracked more than 95,000 rural and urban teens over two periods: from 2008 to 2010 and again from 2014 to 2016.
Urban teens quit smoking by half. Rural teens quit by a third.

Efforts to reduce smoking “need to pay attention to the rural places as well and really understand how these policies or programs may work or not work as well in rural places,” USM’s Erika Ziller told the Reuters news service. “We can’t expect that the things we are doing in urban places (will) translate and work in rural communities.”

Ziller, who served as the study’s lead author, works as the director of the Maine Rural Health Research Center. The Center is located within the Cutler Institute, the research arm of the Muskie School of Public Service at USM.

Another study from the research center explored rates and patterns of commercial tobacco use across rural populations and the aspects of the rural context that may affect tobacco prevention and control efforts.

In a national sample of adults, past-month use of tobacco, cigarettes and smokeless products was higher for rural non-Hispanic whites, people with mental illness, people with substance use disorders and veterans than for their urban counterparts, reported MaineBiz.

Rural Hispanics, pregnant women and sexual and gender minorities also showed higher rates than their urban peers on some tobacco use measures.

Current smoking prevalence for rural adolescents was 7.3%, as compared to 3.8% for their urban peers, and adjusted odds of smoking were 54% higher for rural than for urban youth.

Relative to other rural racial/ethnic groups, American Indian/Alaska Natives had the highest rates of current commercial cigarette use.
Lead author Jean Talbot, a research associate at the Maine Rural Health Research Center, said the strengths of rural communities could be used to encourage more people to stop.

The research found core strengths of rural communities “that can be leveraged to support rural tobacco prevention and control, including strong social networks, high levels of community engagement and experience in forming cross-sector collaborations,” Talbot said.

On a per capita basis, Maine is sixth among all states for lung cancer and 16th for deaths from lung cancer, which is the second most common cancer diagnosed in Maine and its biggest cancer killer.

One in five Mainers smokes, making the state first in New England and 14th in the nation.