Tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the United States and in Connecticut. To address this enormous toll, the American Lung Association in Connecticut calls for the following actions to be taken by our elected officials:
- Fund state tobacco cessation and prevention programs;
- Close the loopholes in Connecticut's indoor smokefree air laws; and
- Raise the tobacco sales age to 21.
Against the backdrop of a looming multi-billion dollar budget deficit in Connecticut, the 2017 state legislative session was dominated by the budget and all policy was meticulously analyzed with a fiscal impact lens. Surprisingly, there were more than 10 pieces of tobacco-related legislation introduced at the beginning of session – including bills proposing to close the many loopholes in our smokefree air laws, increase tobacco taxes with the caveat that this revenue be used to pay for tobacco prevention and cessation, and raising the tobacco sales age to 21, among others. The Tobacco 21 legislation made the most progress, passing both the Public Health and Finance Committees.
Tobacco taxes and tobacco control program funding were hot topics this budget cycle as well. The state budget that finally passed increased the cigarette tax by 45 cents per pack, which will not increase the price enough to have much of a public health benefit. Connecticut will now be tied with New York for the highest state cigarette tax, yet last in the nation for state tobacco prevention funding at ZERO dollars. This was an especially discouraging policy decision – tobacco remains the leading cause of death and disease in the state, yet we are dedicating zero dollars to prevent youth from tobacco and nicotine addiction. The state did make some progress in addressing the disparate rates at which different tobacco products are taxed with the significant increase in the tax on snuff tobacco products, but failed to increase the tax on other tobacco products like cigars or even introduce a tax on electronic cigarettes.
In 2017, the American Lung Association in Connecticut made a lot of progress in identifying challenges and opportunities in moving our agenda to help smokers quit, reduce secondhand smoke exposure and prevent youth from a lifetime of nicotine addiction. The Lung Association also continued to educate key stakeholders about the fact that tobacco is certainly not an issue of the past; and it is long past time to implement best practices policies that have been proven to save lives and reduce the grave cost of tobacco to our society. The fiscal challenges in Connecticut are clearly not going away soon, but lawmakers must recognize the long-term impact investments in prevention programs and policies could make to the state's fiscal and public health.