Tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the United States and in Wisconsin. To address this enormous toll, the American Lung Association in Wisconsin calls for the following actions to be taken by our elected officials:
- Pass legislation that places ALL tobacco products behind the counter or in a locked cabinet;
- Lay the groundwork for future passage of Tobacco 21 legislation; and
- Pass legislation requiring all school districts to have a comprehensive e-cigarette policy that prohibits use on school grounds.
Wisconsin's biennial budget was finally passed more than two months late in 2017, which meant meaningful work on moving tobacco control policies forward was delayed. The budget itself contained good and bad elements for tobacco control – on a positive note, funding for the Wisconsin Tobacco Prevention and Control program was maintained with no cuts, but for the third time, the legislature refused to include a tax increase for little cigars, which would have brought the tax on them up to par with cigarettes. This is due to the very strong anti-tax mentality that presently exists in the legislature.
While progress might be stalled on the state level, local activity continued at a brisk pace as city and county officials passed ordinances to add e-cigarettes to their smokefree air ordinances and school boards adopted policies prohibiting e-cigarette use on school grounds. On the smokefree outdoor air front, tobacco and smokefree (including e-cigarettes) parks are starting to gain acceptance and become more prevalent.
In August, the Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services released its findings from the Youth Tobacco Survey, demonstrating a continued drop in youth smoking rates. Middle and high school smoking rates are at historic lows, 1.3 percent and 8.1 percent respectively. However, use of e-cigarettes by youth is skyrocketing, from 7.9 percent to 13.3 percent in Wisconsin's high schools. The influence and appeal of candy and fruit flavors is unquestionable – 89.9 percent of high schoolers "think they probably would not, or definitely would not try an e-cigarette if it did not have any flavor such as mint, candy, fruit or chocolate."
Clearly the impact flavorings have on youth is huge, which makes it even more important that these products not be easily accessible to anyone under age 18. Retail assessments conducted throughout the state in 2017 have documented their placement alongside candy and snacks where they are easily stolen, and even very young children can "browse" them.
While the American Lung Association in Wisconsin will continue to work with local tobacco control coalitions to strengthen community tobacco control ordinances, the most sweeping progress is still made at the state level. The Lung Association will focus on passing legislation that requires that ALL tobacco sales be clerk assisted, continue to educate lawmakers and the public on the health benefits of raising the legal sales age for tobacco to 21 and fight for strong clean air policies, both indoors and out.