Money at the Root of Virginia's Tobacco Problem

(January 30, 2013)

The tobacco industry continues to spend billions to keep people addicted to its deadly products, while public health is shortchanged.  The American Lung Association’s annual “State of Tobacco Control” report reveals a tragic money trail leading to tobacco-caused death and disease that shows federal and state governments are largely failing to combat tobacco industry tactics, while diverting or misusing life-saving tobacco control funds.  How did Virginia fare this year?  Read on to find out.

State of Tobacco Control 2013” helps you follow the trail of money misused by policymakers – at both the state and federal level – and strategically invested by Big Tobacco, to reveal how the leading cause of preventable death is often entangled in a financial web of neglect and deceit.  The report tracks annual progress on key tobacco control policies at the federal and state level, and assigns letter-grades based on whether laws are adequately protecting citizens from the enormous toll tobacco use takes on lives and the economy.

States fail to use tobacco money to fight tobacco use

The state section of the report card was awash with Ds and Fs. State governments again failed to invest income from tobacco taxes and tobacco settlement payments into programs proven to keep youth off tobacco and help current tobacco users quit. Despite receiving $25.7 billion in tobacco settlement payments and tobacco taxes this year, more than 40 states received an F for not investing even half of what is recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in proven tobacco prevention programs. 

According to the most recent U.S. Surgeon General’s report, if states begin to invest in tobacco prevention programs, youth tobacco use could be cut in half in just six years.  What grades did Virginia earn?

Virginia report card

Overall, Virginia received a negative report card.  Looking at the four areas where each state is graded, Virginia received:

1.      Tobacco Prevention and Control Spending: F

2.      Smokefree Air: F

3.      Cigarette Tax: F

4.      Cessation: F

You can see our complete state report here.

How is money at the root of Virginia’s tobacco problem? Our new infographic tracks where tobacco’s money trail is leading the health of our nation – especially our children.  Visit “State of Tobacco Control 2013” to learn more.

Federal inaction

The federal government’s efforts in tobacco control earned it the worst report card in years: three Ds and an F. Most notably, the Food and Drug Administration failed to exercise its oversight authority allowing for the proliferation of a new generation of tobacco products aimed at hooking youth smokers.

Both states and the federal government have also failed to raise taxes on tobacco products other than cigarettes.  This led to a surge in the consumption of certain cheaper tobacco products, including flavored cigars that are popular among already vulnerable populations – youth, low income communities, Hispanics and LGBT.

Big Tobacco spends big – wins big

According to data from a report released the same day as “State of Tobacco Control 2013” by the National Institute on Money in State Politics called “Big Tobacco Wins Tax Battles,” the tobacco industry was also hard at work making campaign contributions to candidates for political office and bankrolling efforts aimed at defeating ballot initiatives.  The tobacco industry spent $53.4 million during the 2011-2012 election cycle on state candidates for office, political parties and ballot measures, including a whopping $46 million to defeat Proposition 29, which would have increased California’s cigarette tax by $1.00 per pack.  In addition, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, the tobacco industry contributed over $3.7 million to candidates for federal office.

Tobacco use continues to reap a devastating toll.  Smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death in Virginia as 9,241 people die each year from smoking.  It also drains the economy of an enormous sum, more than $4.7 billion annually, in healthcare costs and lost productivity.

You can help

You can help stop the backsliding in tobacco control that puts more and more Americans at risk.  Click here to learn how you can get involved and support our fight for healthy air and healthy lungs in Virginia.