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American Lung Association releases annual State of Tobacco Control report

The “State of Tobacco Control” report evaluates state and federal policymakers on actions taken to eliminate tobacco use.
Composite image by Dave Lucas
The “State of Tobacco Control” report evaluates state and federal policymakers on actions taken to eliminate tobacco use.

The American Lung Association has released its 20th annual “State of Tobacco Control” report, which gauges efforts to curb tobacco use.

New York, Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut are graded F when it comes to funding tobacco prevention and "quit smoking" programs. The Lung Association, citing what it calls "the ongoing youth vaping epidemic," is advocating for an increase in state tobacco control funding, saying prevention saves lives.

Trevor Summerfield is an ALA Director of Advocacy.

"Tobacco use remains one of our leading causes of preventable death and disease in the state,: Summerfield said. "It accounts for more than 28,000 lives each year. And the rates are still just too high, the adult smoking rate is 12%. High school tobacco use rate is more than 25%. And it cost the state a lot. It's over $10 billion a year that it cost the state. When you look at the grades from New York, and I will throw out there as well, Massachusetts, they're pretty good overall, when you look at the total of the report, and for a long time, you know, states like New York and Massachusetts have been viewed as a leader when it comes to public health, and specifically tobacco control policy. But you will see specifically in New York, they did receive failing grades when it comes to funding for state tobacco prevention programs, as well as the ending the sale of all flavored tobacco products."

Vermont, Massachusetts and New York all received a grade of A for having smoke-free air. Connecticut received a B. Vermont got an A for its efforts to give residents access to cessation services.

The report says despite receiving over $1.8 billion from tobacco settlement payments and tobacco taxes, New York only funds tobacco control efforts at 21% of the level recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The report finds tobacco-related problems are costing Vermont $348 million annually. In Massachusetts legislation was introduced to increase the tobacco tax but the legislature has been dormant in taking further action.

"Last year, Massachusetts banned menthol and all flavored products entirely," said Summerfield. "So they're great, they're in that category better, of course. But when we look at this stuff, I mean, we really want to make sure that everything is funded properly, we want to make sure that products are off the market to encourage people to quit, and the services there, such as quit lines and cessation services are there to help people quit. But also, more importantly, especially when it comes to the flavored tobacco products and other tobacco products, such as vaping products as well, we want to get those flavored tobacco products off the market.”

Thomas Carr is ALA's National Director of Policy and the report's author. Carr says 80% of Black Americans who smoke use menthol cigarettes currently, which he attributes to tobacco industry targeting.

"There's particularly high rates among elderly, as being gay, bisexual adults, and also among indigenous peoples Native Americans and Alaskan Natives," Carr said. "So those are two populations where we stay and then I think the other the other kind of key finding too is we some we see menthol, I think menthol use is elevated amongst a number of communities may employ us but especially the Black community.”

Carr says in efforts to reduce the number of youth using tobacco products, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is committed to issuing proposed rules to ban menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars by April. Connecticut and Vermont were graded F on their report cards for efforts to curb the use of flavored tobacco products, New York got a D, Massachusetts an A.

Carr adds although the country as a whole has made substantial progress in advancing tobacco control policies over the past 20 years, including comprehensive smoke-free laws in more states, the federal government gets "mostly failing grades on its efforts to prevent and reduce tobacco."

"What we found is, adult smoking rates declined from 21.6% in 2003 to 14% in 2019, which is a 35% decline," said Carr. "What we also saw was kind of a new generation of tobacco products, especially e-cigarettes is and flavored tobacco products are threatening that progress."

Altria Group, the parent company of Philip Morris USA and U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Company, did not respond to a request for comment in time for broadcast.

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Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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