Report: More funding, flavored tobacco legislation needed

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The American Lung Association’s “State of Tobacco Control” report gives New York state mixed grades on preventing tobacco use. Contributed photo

ALBANYThe American Lung Association’s 20th annual “State of Tobacco Control” report reveals significant progress in the work to end tobacco use, but products like e-cigarettes and other flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes, create concern for anti-tobacco advocates.

The report was released Jan. 26.

The annual report finds that New York earned mixed grades on passing policies to reduce and prevent tobacco use but highlighted two main areas of improvement: tobacco funding and flavors.

The “State of Tobacco Control” report evaluates state and federal policymakers on actions taken to eliminate tobacco use, the nation’s leading cause of preventable death. The report recommends proven-effective tobacco control laws and policies to save lives.

The 2022 “State of Tobacco Control” reveals the country has made substantial progress in advancing tobacco control policies over the past 20 years, including comprehensive smoke-free laws in more states, increased tobacco taxes across the nation and more Americans with access to treatments to help them quit smoking through state Medicaid programs.

In New York state over the last 20 years, lawmakers have made significant strides to reduce tobacco use, including a robust clean indoor air act that protects people from secondhand smoke, according to the American Lung Association. However, there is more work to be done. The adult smoking rate is still 12%, and the high school tobacco use rate is 25.6%.

Today, smoking costs the state over $10 billion and the lives of more than 10,000 New Yorkers annually.  

“While we have seen considerable progress in New York, tobacco use remains our leading cause of preventable death and disease, taking an estimated 28,170 lives each year,” said Trevor Summerfield, director of advocacy for the American Lung Association in New York. “And our progress on tobacco control policy has not been equal. We continue to see the unequal burden of tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke in communities experiencing health disparities.”

NEW YORK’S GRADES

“State of Tobacco Control” 2022 grades states and the District of Columbia in five areas that have been proven to prevent and reduce tobacco use and save lives. New York received the following grades:

  • Funding for State Tobacco Prevention Programs – GradeF
  • Strength of Smokefree Workplace Laws – GradeA
  • Level of State Tobacco Taxes – GradeB
  • Coverage and Access to Services to Quit Tobacco – GradeC
  • Ending the Sale of All Flavored Tobacco Products   – GradeD

This year’s report noted the need for New York policymakers to focus on increasing funding for tobacco prevention and quit-smoking programs. The Lung Association is advocating for an increase in state tobacco control funding as an investment in prevention that would save lives, given the ongoing youth vaping epidemic.

“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,” Summerfield said. “The Lung Association believes the funds should be used to support the health of our communities, and to prevent tobacco use and help people quit, and not switch to e-cigarettes. These programs are also critical for helping to end tobacco-related health disparities.”

The increased funding could also be paired with an increased tobacco tax – which has been proven to be one of the most effective ways to reduce tobacco use, not only among low-income individuals but also for youth, is to significantly increase the tax on all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes. Multiple studies have shown that every 10% increase in the price of cigarettes reduces consumption by about 4% among adults and about 7% among youth. New York has not significantly increased its tobacco tax in over a decade.

In addition to funding and taxes, the report urges legislators to end the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes. According to the 2021 National Youth Tobacco Survey, more than two million high school and middle school students use e-cigarettes, and over 80% of those kids use flavored e-cigarettes.

In addition, menthol cigarettes continue to be the major cause of tobacco-related death and disease in Black communities, with nearly 81% of Black Americans who smoke using them. Ending the sale of flavored tobacco products, including menthol, will not only help end youth vaping, but will also help address the disproportionate impact of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars have on many communities, including Black Americans, LGBTQ+ Americans and youth. 

“Kids follow the flavors, so ending the sale of all flavored tobacco products in New York is key to ending youth tobacco use. We call on legislators in Albany to prohibit the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including menthol, across New York,” said Summerfield.

FEDERAL GRADES OVERVIEW

“State of Tobacco Control” 2022 also grades the federal government in five areas:

  • Federal Government Regulation of Tobacco Products (2022 grade – D)
  • Federal Coverage of Quit Smoking Treatments (2022 grade – D)
  • Level of Federal Tobacco Taxes (2022 grade – F)
  • Federal Mass Media Campaigns to Prevent and Reduce Tobacco Use (2022 grade – A)
  • Federal Minimum Age of Sale for Tobacco Products to 21 (2022 grade – I*)

* The Incomplete grade is for the FDA being more than 18 months overdue in publishing the final Tobacco 21 regulations as required by statute.

“In 2022, New York needs to redouble its efforts to pass the proven policies called for in ‘State of Tobacco Control’ to help end tobacco use,” Summerfield said. “We cannot afford to wait 20 more years and allow another generation to suffer from tobacco-caused addiction, disease and death.”

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