American Lung Association 'State of Tobacco Control' Report Highlights Opportunity for Maine to Prioritize Public Health over the Tobacco Industry by Raising the Tobacco Tax

Maine earns almost perfect score, Lung Association calls on state officials expands its leadership on tobacco policy by removing all flavored tobacco products from the market 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 Maine had significant progress on its efforts to reduce and prevent tobacco use, including e-cigarettes, but that Maine officials must now take bold steps in order to sustain its leadership on tobacco policy in 2020.

The need for Maine 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 nationwide. 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 Maine, our high school tobacco use rate across all products increased to at 29.6%, and our middle school tobacco use rate is the highest in the northeast. We applaud Governor Mills and the Legislature for their actions in 2019 more than doubling funding for our prevention and control program, and equalizing taxes for all tobacco products.  While these actions resulted in Maine having the best report card in the nation, there is simply more to be done. Sadly, the youth vaping epidemic still rising, and Maine must lead the way by removing all flavored tobacco products from the shelves and significantly raising the tobacco tax.  Without using these proven measures outlined in the ‘State of Tobacco Control’ we may lose the opportunity to make the current generation of kids the first tobacco-free generation,” said American Lung Association Senior Division Director for State Public Policy, Lance Boucher.

The 18th annual “State of Tobacco Control” report grades states and the federal government on policies proven to prevent and reduce tobacco use.  The report found that while Maine has taken significant steps to reduce tobacco use, including increasing its funding for the tobacco prevention and control program to a historic 83.5% of the CDC recommended level, elected officials should do more to save lives and ensure all Maine residents benefit from reductions in tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke.

Maine’s Grades:

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

The American Lung Association encourages Maine 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 tobacco taxes. One of the most effective ways to reduce tobacco use through lowering youth initiation and prompting more current users to make quit attempts is to significantly increase the tax on all tobacco products.  Multiple studies have shown that every 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes reduces consumption by about four percent among adults and about seven percent among youth. “Maine has not raised its cigarette tax since 2005. To protect kids from a lifetime of nicotine addiction, the Lung Association encourages Maine to increase cigarette taxes by a minimum of $1.50 per pack.  The measure to equalize the tax on all tobacco products was an important victory in 2019, and now the Maine legislature should act to raise the tobacco tax to maximize its efficacy in preventing and reducing tobacco use,” said Boucher.

One powerful tool to address the youth vaping epidemic is increasing the minimum age of sale for tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, to 21. While Maine had already adopted a tobacco sales age of 21, the U.S. Congress finished off 2019 with a huge victory passing a federal law to increase the national tobacco sales age, ensuring 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. Maine has often led the way when it comes to fighting the epidemic of tobacco use – indeed, in 2009 Maine became the first state to pass legislation restricting some tobacco flavors in cigars.  The Lung Association urges Maine to again lead in protecting our kids from big tobacco by joining Massachusetts and passing comprehensive legislation eliminating flavored tobacco products in 2020.

“State of Tobacco Control” 2020 provides an important roadmap on how states like Maine 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 Maine to again step up and take this opportunity to achieve lasting reductions in tobacco-related death and disease,” said Boucher. 

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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