Tennessee Flunks Most Categories in American Lung Association’s State of Tobacco Control Annual Report Card

Nashville TN (January 12, 2010)

Tennessee flunked all but one category in the American Lung Association’s State of Tobacco Control 2009 report released today. Tennessee’s scores reflect the state’s failure to enact or put into place proven policies for preventing death and disease caused by tobacco use, the number one preventable cause of death in the United States.

The American Lung Association’s State of Tobacco Control looks at how well states do at preventing tobacco use and helping smokers quit.  The report focuses on four key areas—smokefree air, tobacco control program funding, cigarette taxes, and coverage of tobacco cessation treatments and services.  

Tennessee earned a C in smokefree air and F’s in tobacco prevention and control spending, cessation coverage, and its cigarette tax rate.

“These grades should be a wake-up call to Governor Phil Bredesen and our leaders in the legislature” said Margaret Smith, director of advocacy for the American Lung Association in Tennessee.  “Our Tennessee smokefree air laws are weak, putting lives in danger. Almost 50,000 non-smoking Americans die from diseases caused by secondhand smoke exposure each year. No one in Tennessee should have to breathe toxic secondhand smoke when working in or visiting public places and workplaces.  Now is the time to pass a comprehensive smokefree law that will save lives.”

“Although the report card gives grades for the adequacy of tobacco control programs, this exercise isn’t academic,” she continued. “The consequences of success or failure are life or death.”

Twenty-six states and the District of Columbia have passed comprehensive smokefree workplace laws protecting the public and workers from the dangers of secondhand smoke. The American Lung Association is dedicated to protecting each and every American from secondhand smoke through its Smokefree Air Challenge, which is a nationwide campaign to eliminate exposure to secondhand smoke in all work and public places.

To calculate grades published in State of Tobacco Control 2009, the American Lung Association compared policies against targets based on the most current, recognized scientific criteria for effective tobacco control. 

The American Lung Association report comes at a critical moment, when states cannot afford any complacency in efforts to curb the enormous burden of tobacco use. Events in 2009 underscored both the continuing devastation resulting from tobacco-caused disease and the outlaw character of the tobacco companies' schemes:

Tobacco Epidemic Persists

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 46 million adults in the U.S. were smoking, according to the most recent (2008) survey data, and that the nation's "progress in ending the tobacco epidemic" had halted. The findings "indicate an alarming trend," the CDC warned in November, "because smoking is the leading preventable cause of death."

Court Affirms that Tobacco Companies are "Racketeers"

In the District of Columbia, a U.S. appeals court upheld a trial judge's verdict that tobacco companies violated federal laws against racketeering and lied for decades to deceive the public about the dangers of smoking.

The May 22 opinion was important not only for its findings about the past, but also for troubling concerns it raised about the future. The tobacco companies, the court said, “knew about the negative health consequences of smoking, the addictiveness and manipulation of nicotine, the harmfulness of secondhand smoke, and the concept of smoker compensation, which makes light cigarettes no less harmful than regular cigarettes and possibly more.” In the future, the appeals court held, the tobacco companies were likely to violate racketeering laws again.

Six states -- Alabama, Kentucky, Missouri, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia received all “F’s.” No state earned straight “A’s” in State of Tobacco Control 2009.

Facing record budget deficits, 14 states turned to cigarette taxes to increase revenues. Nonetheless, only four states qualified for an “A” grade in this category by imposing cigarette excise taxes of $2.68 or more.

Four proven policies to save lives and cut healthcare costs are higher tobacco taxes, prevention and control programs funded at levels recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), comprehensive smokefree air laws and coverage of cessation treatments. Many states, however, continue to fail to enact these critical policy measures.

Federal Grades

The federal government took major and meaningful steps in 2009 to curb the burden caused by tobacco use. For two decades the American Lung Association has sought legislation for FDA regulation of tobacco products. Congress finally passed the legislation early in 2009. President Obama signed it June 22.

Congress also more than doubled the federal cigarette tax, from 39 cents to $1.01 per pack. In addition, both chambers of Congress passed healthcare reform legislation that could expand coverage under Medicaid, Medicare and private insurance for helping smokers quit.

The 2009 annual report card gives the federal government an “A” for FDA regulation of tobacco products and a “D” for the federal cigarette tax, along with an “F” for cessation coverage and a “D” for ratification of the FCTC. The Obama administration has not submitted the treaty to the Senate for ratification, leaving the U.S. unable to participate in talks to implement and enforce the treaty.

Editor’s Note: Complete report including federal and state grades available at: www.stateoftobaccocontrol.org