ATLANTA -- Nevada, home to Sin City and its 24-hour, smoke-friendly bars and casinos, has knocked Kentucky out of the top spot on the government's list of states with the highest smoking rates.
Nearly a third of Nevada residents smoke, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday.
The numbers didn't surprise Daniele Dreitzer of the American Cancer Society's office in Las Vegas, where smoking is allowed almost anywhere there's gambling. Even in grocery stores, customers light up while they play the slots.
"We jokingly say Nevada's the smoking section for California," Dreitzer said.
The CDC put Nevada's smoking rate at 31.5 percent. Kentucky, a major tobacco producer that had topped the list since 1995, was second at 29.7 percent.
The lowest rates were 13.7 percent in Puerto Rico and 13.9 percent in Utah, where the Mormon Church's opposition to smoking has been credited with keeping rates low.
Dr. Linda Pederson, an epidemiologist for the CDC's Office of Smoking and Health, downplayed Nevada's overtaking Kentucky, noting that the survey's margin of error of 3 percentage points was greater than the 1.8-point difference separating the two states.
The CDC also cautioned that the Puerto Rico numbers could be skewed because 25 percent of homes don't have telephones and were not surveyed.
The CDC has estimated that roughly 25 percent American adults smoke -- a rate that held steady throughout the 1990s.
The CDC surveyed adults in all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, about their smoking habits. People were considered smokers if they smoked almost every day and had smoked more than 100 cigarettes in their life.
Kentucky launched its first statewide anti-smoking campaign this year with $5.5 million from its share of the national tobacco settlement.
In Nevada, where cities and counties are barred from imposing smoking restrictions beyond those in state law, activists are encouraging restaurant owners to ban smoking voluntarily. And smoke-free tables have cropped up at some casinos. But anti-smoking advocates say casinos are still a problem.
"That is our major employer in the state," Dreitzer said. "You think about the number of people who deal cards, who serve in the restaurants, 24 hours a day who are consistently exposed to smoke. The lack of smoke-free environments in our state doesn't discourage anyone from smoking," she said. "And for a smoker trying to quit, it's very difficult."
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