American Lung Association 'State of Tobacco Control' Report Highlights Need for Rhode Island to Prioritize Public Health over the Tobacco Industry by Increasing Funding for the Tobacco Prevention

Rhode Island shows little progress on Tobacco Control, as Lung Association calls on state officials to enact permanent regulations on all flavored tobacco products in 2020

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 calls for proven tobacco control policies in light of the fact that the country’s youth vaping epidemic worsened in 2019. This dire situation is a result of states and the federal government’s failure to enact policies called for in the report such as increased tobacco taxes and stronger federal oversight of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes. This year’s 18th annual report finds that in 2019 Rhode Island had limited progress on its efforts to reduce and prevent tobacco use, including e-cigarettes. The American Lung Association calls on Rhode Island officials to take action by increasing funding for tobacco prevention and cessation programs, building on Governor Raimondo’s executive action prohibiting flavored e-cigarettes, and ensuring enforcement of the new national tobacco age of sale in order to support public health and save lives in 2020.

The need for Rhode Island to take action to protect youth from all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, is more urgent than ever, with the youth vaping epidemic continuing its alarming rise to 27.5% or more than one in four high school students. This is a staggering 135% increase in high school e-cigarette use in just the past two years, and close to three million more kids started vaping in that time period, setting them up for a lifetime of addiction.

“In Rhode Island, our high school tobacco use rate remains at 25.9%.  Sadly, with the youth vaping epidemic still rising, we may have lost an opportunity to make the current generation of kids the first tobacco-free generation. Tobacco use is a serious addiction and Rhode Island needs to implement the proven measures to prevent and reduce tobacco use outlined in ‘State of Tobacco Control’,” said American Lung Association’s Director of Advocacy in Rhode Island, Jennifer Wall.

The 18th 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 should do more to save lives and ensure all Rhode Island residents benefit from reductions in tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke.

Rhode Island Grades:

  • 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

The American Lung Association encourages Rhode Island to put in place all the public policies called for in “State of Tobacco Control,” and in particular, this year’s report noted the need to focus on increasing funding for tobacco prevention and quit smoking programs. An investment in prevention is especially important given the skyrocketing number of youth who are vaping. “Despite Rhode Island receiving $196.9 million from tobacco settlement payments and tobacco taxes, the state funds tobacco control efforts at only 16% of the level recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The American Lung Association believe the funds should be used to support the health of our communities, and to prevent tobacco use and help smokers quit tobacco for good,” said Wall.

Addressing the youth vaping epidemic continues to be a priority both nationally and locally in Rhode Island.  The report notes that in 2019, Rhode Island failed to move forward with legislation that would have increased the tobacco sales age to 21, despite broad support. However, the report also celebrated Congress’s late 2019 victory in passing “Tobacco 21” into federal law, counteracting Rhode Island’s lack of action and ensuring that all states have a sales age of 21 in 2020.

One success of note was Governor Raimondo’s executive action to temporarily prohibit the sale of all flavored e-cigarettes, and her direction to the state department to explore comprehensive policy solutions to address youth tobacco use rates. While Congress failed to pass legislation to eliminate all flavored tobacco products, Massachusetts took a historic step by permanently prohibiting the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes in November 2019, becoming the first such state to do so. The Lung Association urges Rhode Island to follow Massachusetts’ lead and pass comprehensive laws eliminating all flavored tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and menthol cigarettes, in 2020. The Lung Association also encourages Rhode Island to equalize the tax on all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, with its cigarette tax. These steps are critical to reducing tobacco use in Rhode Island, especially among youth.

“State of Tobacco Control” 2020 provides an important roadmap on how states like Rhode Island and the federal government can put in place the policies proven to have the greatest impact on reducing tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke. Now is the time for lawmakers in Rhode Island to end their failure to act and take this opportunity to achieve lasting reductions in tobacco-related death and disease,” said  Wall. 

The question remains, will 2020 be the year that public health is prioritized over tobacco product manufacturers so that another generation is spared the addiction to dangerous tobacco products? As the result of successful lawsuits filed by the American Lung Association and several public health partners, FDA will be required to take several important and long overdue actions to protect the public health from tobacco products in 2020. These include finalizing graphic warning labels on all cigarette packs by March 15, and requiring all e-cigarette, and most cigar, hookah, pipe and other manufacturers of deemed products to submit applications to FDA by May 12, 2020 to remain on the market in the U.S. 

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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