Tobacco Control: How Does Your State Rate?

(January 12, 2010)

According to the Surgeon General, there is no safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke.  Every breath you take that contains tobacco smoke increases your risk of debilitating and even fatal illness.  That's why tobacco control laws are important.  Laws that eliminate workplace smoking, make smoking more expensive or help a smoker quit, ultimately reduces tobacco's terrible toll on our nation's health.  But what is the federal government doing to protect everyone from tobacco?  And how does your state rate, compared to others?  The American Lung Association's State of Tobacco Control 2009 report has the answers.

This year's report finds the federal government made major strides—particularly in giving authority to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to regulate tobacco products— but still has significant room for progress. Most state governments, however, failed to enact critical measures to protect people from deadly tobacco products. Ten states made alarming cuts to their tobacco prevention and control programs.

A Tobacco Report Card
Much like a school report card, our State of Tobacco Control 2009 report assigns letter grades to each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia and the federal government for specific key tobacco control policies.  

On our report website you can see and compare tobacco control report cards for your state, and any other state. You can also find the federal government's grade and the criteria used for all grading.

Grading tobacco control policies is important because these policies affect millions of people at one time.  They have the potential to significantly reduce tobacco use in the United States, and save millions of lives from tobacco-related death and disease.  While on the website you can join the Lung Association in its fight for effective tobacco control policies or share your story about how tobacco control policies or tobacco use have affected you.

Grading the Federal Government
The report grades the federal government's tobacco control efforts on its cigarette tax, U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) regulatory authority over tobacco products, federal coverage of tobacco cessation services and ratification of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control -- the international tobacco control treaty. 

The federal government took major steps to curb the enormous burden caused by tobacco use in 2009. For two decades the American Lung Association advocated giving the FDA authority to regulate tobacco products. Congress finally passed this legislation in 2009 and President Obama signed it into law on June 22.  Congress also more than doubled the federal cigarette tax, from 39 cents to $1.01 per pack.  Still, the federal government received far from a perfect score.  See their entire report card here.

Grading the States
The report issues letter grades to each state and the District of Columbia in four critical areas: Tobacco Prevention and Control Spending; Smokefree Air; State Cigarette Excise Tax and (a category added in 2008) Cessation Coverage, or how states help smokers quit. 

As states faced record budget deficits, many turned to cigarette taxes to increase revenues. Fourteen states and the District of Columbia raised cigarette taxes, a proven means to reduce smoking.  

Disturbing trends emerged, however. Ten states and the District of Columbia took a step backward by sharply reducing funding for tobacco control and prevention programs. This trend undermines other advances because robust tobacco control programs help sustain and even expand the impact of higher cigarette taxes and smokefree workplace laws. New Hampshire, for example, raised its cigarette tax by 45 cents, yet it spends not a single state dollar on tobacco prevention and cessation programs.  See more states reports here.

Raising the Grades
If you look through the grades for a "straight A" student, you'll be disappointed.  In fact, most states and the federal government get an overall failing grade.  Despite a perception that smoking is a public health threat in decline, the truth is that the tobacco epidemic persists. On average, 443,000 Americans die from smoking related illnesses each year.  And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the nation's progress in ending the epidemic has halted—stalling out at about 20 percent of all adults still smoking.

But there is a lot you can do to help reverse these trends.  You can join our Smokefree Air Challenge and help us push through laws that protect us all from secondhand smoke, and help smokers quit.  You can urge your state lawmakers to pass laws that will save lives and save taxpayers money.  You can also volunteer at your local Lung Association, or make a donation so that the Lung Association can continue fighting for air.  Working together we can raise the grade and all breathe cleaner, smokefree air.