NC fails when it comes to tobacco control, says American Lung Association

In its annual State of Tobacco Control report, the American Lung Association gave each state a grade based on four different categories.  How did the North Carolina do? Let’s just say this report card is not worthy of hanging on the fridge anytime soon.

In three out of four categories, the Old North State failed. The American Lung Association issued failing marks to North Carolina in tobacco prevention and control spending, smoke-free air and its tobacco tax. In cessation, though, the state received a C. Click here to download the report and find out how North Carolina compares to the rest of the nation.

From the American Lung Association’s press release:

Washington, D.C. (January 19, 2012) — Most states’ efforts to protect children and curb tobacco-related disease are abysmal according to the American Lung Association’s State of Tobacco Control 2012 report. The federal government made major advances but lost one significant opportunity to save lives.

The Lung Association’s annual report card monitors progress on key tobacco control policies at the federal and state levels and assigns grades to assess whether laws are effectively protecting citizens from the terrible health burden caused by tobacco use.

“President Obama’s administration has confronted the tobacco epidemic head-on,” said Charles D. Connor, American Lung Association president and CEO.

Most states did a poor job of combating tobacco-caused disease in 2011 and are abdicating the responsibility to save lives. Too many states are ceding ground in the fight to protect children. The tobacco industry is filling that void, retooling its strategies to undermine strong federal action, exploiting states’ failure to act, and finding new ways to addict the next generation of Americans. The industry spends billions of dollars to market cigarettes, and nearly doubled the hundreds of millions of dollars to market addictive, cancer-causing smokeless tobacco products.

“Today’s report calls out states for their failures to protect children. If states completely retreat, it will result in even more tragic human consequences across America,” continued Connor. “Far too many states are turning away from proven interventions and are doing less to keep kids from smoking.”

“The Obama administration has made tremendous strides forward in our national battle to reduce tobacco use,” said Connor, “but its announcement in December that states will decide their own essential health benefit is a lost opportunity. We know that most states aren’t doing everything they should to help smokers quit, and as a result, millions of people won’t get the help they need to stop smoking.”

Youth and adult smoking rates declined slowly over the past decade, but the decline has been inconsistent and has stalled at times. The tobacco industry is fighting back aggressively in both legislatures and the courts. The report points out that if they are successful, the gains in protecting Americans’ health will be eroded.

Tobacco use continues to reap a devastating toll. Tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death: 443,000 people die each year from tobacco-related illnesses and secondhand smoke exposure. It also drains the economy of an enormous sum, more than $193 billion annually, in healthcare costs and lost productivity.

State Activity, Inaction

Most states failed miserably to make progress on key tobacco control policies in 2011, and too many states have ceded ground.

“When fighting the tobacco epidemic, a race to the bottom is not necessary,” Connor warned. “Millions of lives are at stake.”

States regressed in 2011 with no state passing a strong smokefree air law, and Nevada weakening its existing law. Washington virtually eliminated a tobacco prevention and quit-smoking program, which a recent study found saved the state $5 for every $1 spent on tobacco-related hospitalization costs from 2000 to 2009. Higher cigarette prices encourage smokers to quit but for the first year since the Lung Association released the first State of Tobacco Control report in 2003, no state raised its tobacco tax significantly, and New Hampshire cut its cigarette tax by a dime per pack.

Moreover, 13 states and the District of Columbia slashed or completely eliminated already scant funding of tobacco control and prevention programs. Three states–Missouri, Connecticut and Tennessee–made progress expanding quit-smoking coverage from just pregnant women to all Medicaid enrollees.

The state report cards for 2011 were awash with “Fs.” Forty-three states and the District of Columbia earned an “F” for failing to fund tobacco prevention and control programs at needed levels. Thirty-two states plus the District of Columbia earned an “F” for failing to offer comprehensive quit-smoking treatments to Medicaid recipients and state employees and for failing to invest enough in state quitlines.

States receiving straight “Fs” were Alabama, Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia. Only four states, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine and Oklahoma, received all passing grades. No state received straight “As.”

Federal Action

The American Lung Association applauds the federal steps to implement strong and effective action to protect people from tobacco. This progress includes the following:

  On January 1, 2011, the federal government began offering comprehensive quit-smoking benefits to its millions of employees and their families.
  The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced in June that the government will give states partial reimbursement for quit-smoking counseling services furnished to Medicaid enrollees through state toll-free numbers called quitlines. The American Lung Association views this decision as a major advance.
  In June 2011, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration unveiled new graphic warning labels for cigarette packs and advertisements, which will include the national 1-800-QUIT-NOW telephone number for help. The day the new warning labels were released in the media, calls to 1-800-QUIT-NOW spiked dramatically. A federal judge blocked the new warning labels in a lawsuit filed by several tobacco companies. The American Lung Association strongly supports the government’s appeal of this injunction.

However, in December 2011, the Administration squandered an historic opportunity to help millions of American smokers quit when the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services decided to allow each state to determine the benefit in its state insurance exchange starting in 2014. Instead of requiring one comprehensive cessation benefit across the nation, each state – many of which already have a poor track record of helping smokers quit – will determine their individual required benefit. It is clear that this decision will only lead to greater confusion and will ultimately reduce smokers’ access to life-saving benefits that also save state healthcare systems money.

The federal government earned an “A” for U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulation of tobacco products; a “C” for coverage of tobacco cessation treatments under major federal healthcare programs; a “D” for the federal cigarette tax; and a “D” for signing but failing to ratify the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, an international treaty.


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