In Kentucky, tobacco has long been an important cash crop. It still brings in hundreds of millions of dollars a year. But tobacco has also brought the Bluegrass State something less glorious -- Kentucky has the highest smoking rate in the United States. Nearly 28 percent of Kentuckians smoke regularly, more than any other state.
Considering the state's heritage, we found it interesting when Kentucky decided to start charging state employees who smoke more money for health insurance than it charges nonsmokers. The man who led the effort to add the surcharge is Gov. Ernie Fletcher, who also happens to be a doctor.
Gov. Fletcher feels that insurance surcharges along with a wellness program will lower Kentucky's smoking rate. In addition, he thinks it is fair for smokers to pay more than nonsmokers because they cost the state so much more for medical care.
But there are a lot of angry smokers in Bluegrass Country. Here's one common complaint -- Why doesn't the state ask other people in high risk categories to pay more?
One state employee we talked to says she smokes two packs a day, but hasn't had any major medical problems, so why should she pay more?
We asked the governor what he thought about that argument. He says right now smokers are indeed the only group paying more, but he wouldn't rule out expanding the surcharge to other higher risk categories. Kentucky is one of five states that ask smokers to pay a surcharge, but it got our attention because of its number one ranking in a category it doesn't want to lead.