American Lung Association 'State of Tobacco Control' Report Highlights Opportunity for Wisconsin to Prioritize Health over the Tobacco Industry

Wisconsin has not passed any meaningful legislation in 10 years; Lung Association calls on state officials to pass strong legislation in 2020 to end tobacco use, youth vaping epidemic.

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 Wisconsin failed to take action on any tobacco control legislation that would combat the youth e-cigarette epidemic.

The need for Wisconsin 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, setting kids up for a lifetime of addiction.

“Sadly, in Wisconsin, vaping levels are at an all-time high and we may already have lost an opportunity to make the current generation of kids the first tobacco-free generation. Wisconsin’s elected officials need to implement the proven measures to prevent and reduce tobacco use outlined in ‘State of Tobacco Control’,” said Dona Wininsky, Advocacy Director for the American Lung Association in Wisconsin. “The state must stop passing the buck to the federal government and local municipalities whose authority is restricted.  Our elected officials must do the ‘heavy lifting’ necessary to curb this youth epidemic.”

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 Wisconsin’s grade have remained virtually unchanged, due to the lack of political will to take on the challenges presented by e-cigarette use and other tobacco products.

Wisconsin’s Grades:

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

The Lung Association encourages Wisconsin to put in place all the public policies called for in “State of Tobacco Control,” and in particular, focus on passing a comprehensive law to restrict sales of tobacco products to age 21, add e-cigarettes to the smoke free air law and require that all tobacco products be placed behind the counter or in a locked cabinet. Bills to address each of these issues have been introduced, however the legislature has not taken action on any of them.

The U.S. Surgeon General has concluded there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke. Wisconsin must amend its smoke free air law to include e-cigarettes. This health protection would benefit everyone and is especially critical for those who work in the service and manufacturing sectors who are often exposed to secondhand smoke and e-cigarette aerosol daily. “Opportunities for better health begin where people work, live and play, and a person should not have to be exposed to the dangers of secondhand smoke or aerosol so that they could afford to put food on the table,” said Wininsky

Another powerful tool to address the youth vaping epidemic is increasing the minimum age of sale for tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, to 21. The U.S. Congress finished off 2019 with a huge victory passing a federal law to increase the national tobacco sales age to 21. This law will ensure that all states have a sales age of 21 in 2020. However, Wisconsin’s law is still at 18, leading to confusion amongst retailers regarding which law they are required to enforce.

One important measure Congress failed to address is eliminating 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 Wisconsin 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 and e-cigarette aerosol. “Now is the time for lawmakers in Wisconsin to end their failure to act and take this opportunity to achieve lasting reductions in tobacco-related death and disease,” said Wininsky. “The question remains, will 2020 be the year that public health is prioritized over the tobacco industry so that another generation is spared the addiction to dangerous tobacco products?”

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 262-703-4840. 

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