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Rhode Island Failing to Protect Youth from Tobacco Use, Finds New American Lung Association Report

2018 ‘State of Tobacco Control’ report finds Rhode Island lawmakers must still do more to reduce tobacco use by investing in Tobacco Prevention and Control and Raising the Age of Sale to ensure all Americans benefit from progress

(January 24, 2018) - PROVIDENCE, R.I.

For more information please contact:

Jennifer Solomon
[email protected]
(516) 680-8927

The American Lung Association’s 2018 “State of Tobacco Control” shows Rhode Island earned less than ideal grades on its effort to reduce tobacco use by passing meaningful legislation. The 16th annual report grades states and the federal government on policies proven to prevent and reduce tobacco use, and finds that while Rhode Island has effective measures in place to limit exposure to secondhand smoke, elected officials must do more to protect young people from beginning this deadly addiction.

“Nationwide, smoking rates have continued to decline to historically low levels, yet tobacco use remains the nation’s leading cause of preventable death and disease killing over 480,000 Americans, including 1,780 Rhode Island residents, each year,” said Jeff Seyler, Executive Vice President, Northeast Region of the American Lung Association. “Tobacco use is a serious addiction, and the fact that 15 percent of adults and 25 percent of high school students in Rhode Island currently use tobacco highlights how much work remains to be done in our communities to prevent and reduce tobacco use.”

This year’s “State of Tobacco Control” finds Rhode Island’s grades skew towards failure, especially when it comes to protecting youths from tobacco addiction. Governor Raimondo and the state legislature must enact proven policies that will reduce tobacco use and save lives:

  • Funding for State Tobacco Prevention Programs – Grade F
  • Strength of Smokefree Workplace Laws - Grade A
  • Level of State Tobacco Taxes - Grade B
  • Coverage and Access to Services to Quit Tobacco - Grade D
  • Minimum Age of Sale for Tobacco Products to 21 – Grade F

A silver lining in the Rhode Island report is that in October 2017, state lawmakers were able to pass 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.  However, more tobacco bills were rejected than passed last year, including: 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 rejection of these important policy initiatives will have a life and death impact on members of the Rhode Island community.

Sadly, the report also details that as a result of decades of targeted marketing by the tobacco industry, too many Americans haven’t seen the benefits of reduced smoking rates, and Rhode Island and the federal government could do more to ensure all Americans benefit from tobacco control efforts. According to the American Lung Association, Rhode Island is funding its Tobacco Control Program at less than 20 percent of the CDC recommended level.  If Rhode Island would increase funding for tobacco control programs, they would have a powerful opportunity to focus on programs not only on youths across the state, but also in communities that still use tobacco at higher rates and who have been targeted by the tobacco industry. Rhode Island receives $195.5 million from tobacco settlement payments and tobacco taxes, and should use more of these funds to help prevent tobacco use and help smokers quit.

In addition to benefits derived from prevention and education programs, Rhode Island’s youth have much at stake in the ongoing discussion surrounding raising the age of sale from 18-21.  Tobacco is a highly addictive product, and close to 95 percent of smokers try their first cigarette by the age of 21. More must be done to prevent and reduce youth tobacco use in Rhode Island, and one powerful tool is increasing the minimum age of sale for tobacco products to 21. In fact, the National Academy of Medicine (formerly the Institute of Medicine) found increasing the minimum age of sale for all tobacco products to 21 could prevent 223,000 deaths among people born between 2000 and 2019, including 50,000 fewer dying from lung cancer – the nation’s leading cancer killer.

Jennifer Wall, Director of Health Education & Public Policy for the American Lung Association in Rhode Island said,  “We were disappointed that Governor Raimondo didn’t include Tobacco 21 in her budget proposal, but we hope the legislature will pass the bill sponsored by Representative Tanzi and Senator Coyne.  With 1 in 4 Rhode Island high school students currently using tobacco products, Tobacco 21 legislation stands to have a significant impact on the lives and futures of our young adults.” 

The state’s failures are softened by a nearly unprecedented response to tobacco use from local governments.  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. These local victories demonstrate strong public support for more comprehensive tobacco control across the state.

“We know how to reduce tobacco use in this country. ‘State of Tobacco Control’ looks at proven methods to save lives and protect the health of all Americans,” said Wall. “Rhode Island elected officials must act to implement these proven policies, which will prevent tobacco-caused death and disease, and help keep our lungs healthy.”

For media interested in speaking with an expert about the “State of Tobacco Control” report, lung health, tobacco use and tobacco control policies, contact the American Lung Association at [email protected] or 516-680-8927.

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About the American Lung Association

The American Lung Association is the leading organization working to save lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease, through research, education and advocacy. The work of the American Lung Association is focused on four strategic imperatives: to defeat lung cancer; to improve the air we breathe; to reduce the burden of lung disease on individuals and their families; and to eliminate tobacco use and tobacco-related diseases. For more information about the American Lung Association, a holder of the coveted 4-star rating from Charity Navigator and a Gold-Level GuideStar Member, or to support the work it does, call 1-800-LUNGUSA (1-800-586-4872) or visit: Lung.org.

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