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American Lung Association 'State of Tobacco Control' Report Finds West Virginia Must Do More to Prevent, Reduce Tobacco Use by Restoring Millions in Program Funding

The state also earns F grade in Minimum Age category; Lung Association calls on officials to increase the age of sale for all tobacco products--including e-cigarettes--to age 21 to save lives

(January 30, 2019) - CHARLESTON, WV

For more information please contact:

Ewa Dworakowski
[email protected]
717-971-1123

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 West Virginia earned failing grades on its efforts to reduce and prevent tobacco use. The American Lung Association calls on state officials to not only pass legislation that would make it tougher for youth to access tobacco products – including e-cigarettes – but also to fund tobacco prevention and education programs and services to reduce and prevent youth e-cigarette use.

The need for West Virginia 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 West Virginia, our adult smoking rates remain at 26 percent while the high school smoking rate is 10.3 percent. Tobacco use is a serious addiction and we need to invest in the proven measures to prevent and reduce tobacco use outlined in 'State of Tobacco Control'," said American Lung Association's Sarah Lawver, advocacy director, West Virginia."The report provides a roadmap on how to save lives, but much work remains to be done in communities across West Virginia 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 elected officials must do more to save lives and ensure all West Virginia 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 D*
  • Level of State Tobacco Taxes - Grade F
  • Coverage and Access to Services to Quit Tobacco - Grade F
  • Minimum Age of Sale for Tobacco Products to 21 – Grade F

*West Virginia has 60.4 percent of the state's population covered by comprehensive local smokefree workplace regulations. If a state has more than 50 percent of its population covered by local smokefree ordinances/regulations, the state is graded based on population covered by those local ordinances/regulations rather than the statewide law.

The American Lung Association encourages West Virginia to fully fund tobacco control efforts at levels recommended by the CDC, and, this year's report specifically noted the need to focus on restoration of West Virginia state funding for tobacco prevention and cessation.

If West Virginia would restore funding for tobacco control programs, lawmakers would have a powerful opportunity to help further reduce and prevent tobacco use, including supporting communities that still use tobacco at higher rates and who have been targeted by the tobacco industry. An investment in prevention is especially important given the skyrocketing number of youths who are using e-cigarettes.

"In 2017 and 2018, Tobacco Prevention and Education funding was eliminated from the state budget, leaving West Virginia as one of the only states that is currently not investing any funding in tobacco prevention and cessation programs. The Lung Association recommends that funding is restored for these lifesaving programs and services at the level of $5.65 million per year for the next three years," said Lawver.

Finally, 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 West Virginia, and one powerful tool is increasing the minimum age of sale for tobacco products to 21.

"Virtually all adult smokers had their first cigarette before age 21, and most before the age of 18, but we can change this in West Virginia by increasing the age of sale for tobacco products to at least 21 years old. This move would significantly reduce youth tobacco use, slow the e-cigarette epidemic and save thousands of lives," said Lawver. "In the 2019 'State of Tobacco Control' report, we call for West Virginia Governor Jim Justice and the state legislature to take action and protect the children of West Virginia by raising the minimum sales age for tobacco, including e-cigarettes to 21."

Nationwide, increasing the age of sale of tobacco to 21 would 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.

West Virginia Local Smokefree Regulation Grades

The American Lung Association in West Virginia has evaluated regulations restricting smoking in all 55 West Virginia counties, and assigned them letter grades from A to F based on the strength of the regulation.  The counties and grades are displayed in the chart below.

Thirty-three counties earned A grades, 12 earned B grades, 8 earned C grades and 2 counties earned F grades.

An "A" grade means smoking is prohibited in virtually all public places and workplaces, and an "F" grade means protections from secondhand smoke are inadequate or non-existent.

West Virginia received a "D" grade for Smokefree Air in the American Lung Association's 2019 "State of Tobacco Control" report.  This is due to the large percentage of West Virginia's population covered by local smokefree regulations. 

Table of State of Tobacco Control county grades for West Virginia

The Lung Association's "State of Tobacco Control" 2019 report 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 West Virginia 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 717-503-3903.

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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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