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Rhode Island Earns 2 Failing Grades in American Lung Association 'State of Tobacco Control' Report

Tobacco Policy in Rhode Island Must be Implemented to Prevent, Reduce Tobacco Use, Protect Youth

(January 30, 2019) - PROVIDENCE, R.I.

For more information please contact:

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

Tobacco use remains the nation's leading cause of preventable death and disease, taking an estimated 480,000 lives every year. This year's "State of Tobacco Control" report from the American Lung Association finds Rhode Island earned two failing grades on its efforts to reduce and prevent tobacco use. The American Lung Association calls on state officials to raise the minimum age of sale for tobacco products and increase funding for the Rhode Island Tobacco Control Department in order to save the lives of Rhode Islanders.

The need for Rhode Island to take action to protect youth from tobacco is more urgent than ever, with youth e-cigarette use reaching epidemic levels due to a 78 percent increase in high school e-cigarette use from 2017 to 2018, according to results from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)'s 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey. This equals one million additional kids beginning to use e-cigarettes, placing their developing bodies and lungs at risk from the chemicals in e-cigarettes as well as a lifetime of addiction to a deadly product. This has caused the U.S. Surgeon General to declare e-cigarette use among young people an epidemic in an Advisory issued in December 2018.

"In Rhode Island, our high school tobacco use rate remains at 25.9 percent. Tobacco use is a serious addiction and we need to invest in proven measures to prevent and reduce tobacco use as outlined in ‘State of Tobacco Control'," said Jennifer Wall, Director of Advocacy for the American Lung Association in Rhode Island. "The report provides a roadmap on how to save lives, but much work remains to be done in communities across Rhode Island to prevent and reduce tobacco use."

The 17th annual "State of Tobacco Control" report grades states and the federal government on policies proven to prevent and reduce tobacco use, and finds that while Rhode Island has taken some significant steps to reduce tobacco use, including strengthening smokefree laws, enacting a smokefree schools policy and local retail tobacco restriction ordinances, there is much room for improvement.  With localities like West Warwick, Barrington and Central Falls paving the way and amplifying local support for tobacco control policies, Rhode Island's state elected officials must do more to ensure all Rhode Island residents benefit from reductions in tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke:

  • 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 C
  • Minimum Age of Sale for Tobacco Products to 21 – Grade F

As youth smoking and e-cigarette use continue to garner attention at the national level, the American Lung Association urges Rhode Island legislators to pass a statewide "Tobacco 21" law - to raise the age of sale from 18-21. This year, the state received a failing grade in this category after a bill in the last legislative session failed to pass.

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.

Daniel Fitzgerald, Coordinator  for Tobacco Free Rhode Island said, "Virtually all adult smokers had their first cigarette before age 21, and most before the age of 18.   By increasing the age of sale for tobacco products to at least 21 years old we can reduce youth tobacco use, slow the e-cigarette epidemic and save lives."

Wall continued, "In the 2019 ‘State of Tobacco Control' report, we call for Governor Raimondo and the legislature to take action and protect the children of Rhode Island by raising the minimum sales age for tobacco, including e-cigarettes, to 21."

Dr.Saurabh Agarwal, a cardiothoracic radiologist at Rhode Island Medical Imaging echoed the call to better protect youth from tobacco saying, "According to a 2015 report from the National Academy of Medicine, raising the tobacco age to 21 nationwide 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.  Failing to enact policies like this continues to place the lung health and lives of Americans and our children at risk."

In addition to passing Tobacco 21, Rhode Island has a powerful opportunity to help further reduce and prevent tobacco use by increasing funding for tobacco control programs. An investment in prevention is especially important given the skyrocketing number of youth who are using e-cigarettes, as well as a tool to combat the healthcare costs incurred by the state due to smoking, estimated at over $640 million annually.  Despite Rhode Island receiving $195 million from tobacco settlement payments and tobacco taxes, the state's programs were funded at less than 20 percent of the level recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

Wall concluded, "The State of Tobacco Control" 2019 provides a blueprint that states and the federal government can follow to put in place proven policies that will have the greatest impact on reducing tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke in the U.S. The real question is: Will lawmakers in Rhode Island end their failure to act and take this opportunity to achieve lasting reductions in tobacco-related death and disease?"

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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