Wyoming made national headlines last week when a study showed the Cowboy State's chewing tobacco use is the highest in America.
Nearly 1 in 6 adult men in Wyoming use smokeless tobacco, according to the report by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It's a discouraging statistic, considering the dangers of this hard-to-break habit.
Smokeless tobacco can cause both oral and pancreatic cancer, and also increases the risk of fatal heart attacks and strokes.
Regardless of health risks, about 9 percent of Wyoming's residents — both men and women — choose to chew.
In commenting on the recent study, one CDC official noted Wyoming's rodeo culture, which includes a tradition of chewing tobacco.
Though tobacco-chewing cowboys may be a symbol of rodeo or other sporting events, the trend is starting to change.
Over the past few years, health advocates have spearheaded efforts to curb chewing in the rodeo arena.
The Wyoming Through With Chew program encourages young athletes in its Rodeo All-Stars campaign, recognizing riders who take a tobacco-free pledge. The program also provides Quit Spit Kits throughout Wyoming, available to residents wanting to break the habit. (Locally, quit kits are available through the Park County Anti-Tobacco Campaign at West Park Hospital in Cody.)
Another encouraging sign: tobacco companies no longer sponsor major rodeo events in Wyoming. Copenhagen advertising was missing from this year's Cheyenne Frontier Days — in its place was Wyoming's Quit Tobacco Program, now a top-level sponsor of the world's largest outdoor rodeo. The Cody Stampede Rodeo also is free of tobacco-company sponsorships.
It's important that young residents never begin chewing tobacco. In most cases, chewing tobacco starts at a young age, and often precedes smoking, according to health officials.
While it may take time to shed Wyoming's “chewing rodeo culture” stereotype or reverse the state's tobacco trends, it is encouraging that efforts are underway statewide to reduce Wyoming's tobacco usage. It's time for more Cowboy State residents to be through with chew.