Princeton Times

Letters to Editor

January 21, 2012

ALA: West Virginia fails to protect citizens from tobacco-related disease, death

PRINCETON — West Virginia policymakers failed in their efforts to protect children and adults and curb tobacco-related disease according to the American Lung Association’s State of Tobacco Control 2012 report.

The Lung Association’s annual report card on tobacco control monitors progress on key tobacco control policies at the federal and state levels and assigns grades to assess whether laws are protecting citizens from the terrible health burden caused by tobacco use, the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S.

West Virginia joins many other states that abdicated their responsibility in 2011 to enact much-needed laws and policies that save lives and reduce tobacco-related disease.    

West Virginia collects more than $113 million in tobacco revenues. Despite tough economic times, there is no justification for retreating or stalling in efforts to protect the citizens of West Virginia from the harms of tobacco. In addition to its devastating impact on the lives of so many, tobacco use also drives up healthcare costs.

The American Lung Association in West Virginia labored in 2011 to maintain tobacco prevention and cessation funding, drive efforts for clean indoor air legislation at the county level, and advocate for an increase in tobacco tax by $1. Although funding for tobacco prevention and cessation programs saw no cuts in the budget, the amount of funding allotted was not at an adequate level. With the help of local and statewide coalitions, progress in implementing smokefree air laws has continued at the county level as no state law exists for comprehensive clean indoor air.  Legislation for an increase in tobacco tax was not passed, though there were attempts introduced in both houses of the legislature.

Although youth and adult smoking rates declined slowly over the past decade, the decline has been inconsistent.  Tobacco use continues to reap a devastating toll. In West Virginia, the adult smoking rate is 26.8 percent — well above the national adult rate of 20.6% - and the high school smoking rate is 21.8 percent.  Tobacco causes an estimated 3,821 deaths in West Virginia annually and costs the state’s economy $1.7 billion in healthcare costs and lost productivity. Each year, 443,000 people die from tobacco-related illnesses and secondhand smoke exposure.

It is imperative that West Virginia enact the smart strategies identified in State of Tobacco Control 2012 for better protecting its citizens from tobacco’s dangers.  It will save countless lives.

The American Lung Association in West Virginia has evaluated regulations restricting smoking in all 55 West Virginia counties, and assigned them letter grades from A to F based on the strength of the regulation.  

Eighteen counties — up from last year’s count of 17 — earned “A” grades, 20 earned “B” grades, 10 earned “C” grades and the remaining 7 counties earned “F” grades.  An “A” grade means smoking is prohibited in almost all public places and workplaces, and an “F” grade means protections from secondhand smoke are inadequate.

Mercer County earned a C.

In 2012, the American Lung Association in West Virginia will continue to focus its efforts on an increase in tobacco tax, comprehensive clean indoor air and maintaining tobacco prevention and cessation funding.

The American Lung Association report congratulates the federal government for taking action to carry out strong tobacco control policies, as it identifies a chasm between the progress achieved by the federal government and weak efforts by most states. Due to this inaction, the tobacco industry has made inroads to fill the resulting void, attempting to exploit states’ failure to act and marketing new products to addict Americans, in particular young Americans.

In its tenth annual State of Tobacco Control report, the Lung Association graded all 50 states and the District of Columbia on four proven policies to save lives and cut healthcare costs. These are tobacco prevention and control program funding; smokefree air laws; cigarette tax rates; and coverage of cessation treatments and services, to help smokers quit.

Overall, West Virginia and five other states received all “F’s.” They were Alabama, Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina and Virginia. Only four states, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine and Oklahoma, received all passing grades. No state received straight “A’s” in the State of Tobacco Control 2012 report.

Many states regressed in 2011. No state passed a strong smokefree air law, and Nevada weakened its existing law. Washington virtually eliminated a tobacco prevention and quit-smoking program that was previously a national model. For the first year in recent memory, no state increased its tobacco tax significantly, and 13 states and the District of Columbia significantly cut or completely eliminated already meager funding of tobacco control and prevention programs.

The enormity of the challenge facing us requires combined resources at both the state and federal levels. We can’t fail the citizens of West Virginia.  Our end goal is to remove tobacco’s chokehold on our health. It’s a life-and-death matter.

— Deb Brown

President and CEO,

American Lung Association

of the Mid-Atlantic

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