Tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the United States and in Rhode Island. To address this enormous toll, the American Lung Association in Rhode Island calls for the following actions to be taken by our elected officials:
- Raise the minimum age of sale for tobacco products from 18 to 21;
- Increase funding to the Rhode Island Department of Health's tobacco control program; and
- Increase the amount of local tobacco retail ordinances on: raising the age to 21, retailer licensing, flavor restrictions, product placement and couponing/promotions restrictions.
The 2017 Rhode Island legislative session included one victory: the passage of legislation which prohibits the use of ENDS (electronic nicotine delivery systems) products in schools and prohibits the sale of ENDS liquid that's not contained in child-resistant packaging. This bill was signed by Governor Raimondo in October 2017 and took effect January 1, 2018.
Other tobacco bills that were introduced, but not passed included: adding electronic cigarettes to the Rhode Island smokefree workplace law, adding sales and use taxes to ENDS products and little cigars, raising the minimum age of sale for tobacco products from 18 to 21, not allowing smoking in Rhode Island casinos and several smokefree multi-unit housing safety acts.
The proposed fiscal year 2018 budget from Governor Raimondo included a 50-cent cigarette tax increase and providing passage, a $500,000 dedication to tobacco control programs. As in previous years, health advocates including the American Lung Association in Rhode Island, were opposed due to the resulting price increase being too small to impact youth and adult smoking rates. The requested excise tax was passed raising the tax from $3.75 to $4.25 per pack, however funding dedicated to tobacco control programs was not included making the increase even less effective.
Additionally, on the local level, there were numerous victories, many of which were supported by the Lung Association and Tobacco Free RI. The City of Woonsocket and Town of Bristol both strengthened existing outdoor smokefree ordinances to include ENDS products. The Town of Barrington raised the legal minimum age of sale for tobacco products from 18 to 21. The Cities of Woonsocket and West Warwick and the Towns of Barrington, Johnston and Middletown, adopted comprehensive tobacco control regulations which included requiring local tobacco retail licensing, tobacco enforcement funding, flavored tobacco product restrictions and some of which included the elimination of tobacco discounts and promotions. Several other Rhode Island cities and towns considered similar regulations which are expected to gain traction in 2018.
The American Lung Association in Rhode Island will build on positive hearings in 2017 and support legislation that raises the age of sale for tobacco products to 21; increases funding for the state's tobacco control program; and strengthens point of sale tobacco regulations. Strong public support exists for these measures, which the Lung Association will seek to publicize and leverage with state legislators and policy makers.