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American Lung Association 'State of Tobacco Control' Report Highlights Opportunity for Massachusetts to Prioritize Public Health over the Tobacco Industry by Increasing Funding to Its Tobacco Prev

Massachusetts grades decline for tobacco taxes and access to cessation, Lung Association calls on state officials to expand efforts to modernize tobacco control by increasing funding for control and p

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 Massachusetts’s grades declined from a B to a C in the tobacco taxes category, from a C to a D in for access to cessation, and remained at failing levels for prevention and control funding.  The American Lung Association applauds Massachusetts for it’s bold action to prohibit the sale of all flavored tobacco products within the Commonwealth, but maintains that the modernization of tobacco policy must include stronger support and resources for prevention and cessation to support public health and save lives in 2020.

The need for Massachusetts 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 Massachusetts, our high school tobacco use rate remains at 24.6%. Massachusetts has been a leader on tobacco policy, by being the first state to prohibit tobacco sales in pharmacies, the first to remove all flavored tobacco products from the market, and joining the early adopters in raising the tobacco age of sale to 21. Sadly, it’s simply not enough.  The youth vaping epidemic is still rising and without funding for prevention and cessation programs, we will lose the opportunity to make the current generation of kids the first tobacco-free generation,” said American Lung Association Director of Advocacy Elizabeth Hamlin.  

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 while Massachusetts has taken significant steps to reduce tobacco use, elected officials should do more to save lives and ensure all Massachusetts residents benefit from reductions in tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke.

Massachusetts Grades:

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

The American Lung Association encourages Massachusetts 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. “Massachusetts is the 8th worst state in the country in terms of high school use of electronic cigarettes. Despite Massachusetts receiving $836 million from tobacco settlement payments and tobacco taxes, the state currently funds tobacco control efforts at only 10.5% 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 especially among our youth, and to help smokers quit tobacco for good,” said Hamlin.

The Commonwealth also lost some momentum this year in both the tobacco tax and the access to cessation categories, as coverage of counseling for state employees was found to be minimal, as opposed to last year when all 3 forms of counseling were covered - and the investment per smoker on the state quitline decreased. Fortunately, Governor Baker’s recently released budget did indicate potentially positive changes for 2020, including nearly $4 million for the state’s prevention program.  Specifically, his proposal included funds for a vaping awareness campaign; enforcement support; expanded cessation support, including Quitline capacity and an enhanced SBIRT screening tool for schools; additional youth programming; and to evaluate and inform decision-making in the public health response to the vaping epidemic.  The American Lung Association urges state lawmakers to pass the budget as well as increase the tax on tobacco products, which has proved to be one of the most effective ways to reduce tobacco use, not only among low-income individuals but also for youth is to significantly increase the tax on all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes.

Nationally, the report celebrated a victory at the federal level, as the U.S. Congress finished off 2019 by passing a law to increase the national tobacco sales age to 21. While Massachusetts had already adopted a tobacco sales age of 21, this federal law will ensure that all states have a sales age of 21 in 2020. However, Congress failed to pass legislation to eliminate all flavored tobacco products, making the need for state action to end the sale of all flavored products critical. Massachusetts took that historic step by 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 more states to follow Massachusetts’ lead and pass comprehensive laws eliminating flavored tobacco products in 2020.

“’State of Tobacco Control’ 2020 provides an important roadmap on how states like Massachusetts 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 Massachusetts to build on their efforts to modernize tobacco policy by filling in the gaps for prevention and cessation. This is a real opportunity to achieve lasting reductions in tobacco-related death and disease,” said Hamlin 

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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