American Lung Association 'State of Tobacco Control' Report: Washington has Opportunity to Prioritize Public Health over the Tobacco Industry in 2020

Washington earns mixed grades in tobacco control report, Lung Association calls on state officials to clear the market of flavors and support cessation services to save lives

This year’s “State of Tobacco Control” report from the American Lung Association highlights the need to implement proven tobacco control policies in light of the fact that the country’s youth vaping epidemic worsened in 2019. This public health threat is a direct result of states’ and the federal government’s failure to enact evidence-based policies such as supporting tobacco cessation services and stronger federal oversight of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes. 

This year’s 18th annual report finds Washington earned mixed grades on its policies to reduce and prevent tobacco use, including e-cigarettes. Tobacco use remains the nation’s leading cause of preventable death and disease, taking an estimated 480,000 lives every year. The American Lung Association calls on Washington legislators  to support cessation services and clear the market of flavors.

The need for Washington 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 percent or more than one in four high school students. This is a staggering 135 percent 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 Washington alone, there are more than 665,000 current smokers,” said Carrie Nyssen, senior director of advocacy for the American Lung Association in Washington. “And with the youth vaping epidemic still rising, we may have squandered an opportunity to make the current generation of kids the first tobacco-free generation. Tobacco use is a serious addiction, and Washington can and should do more to prevent and reduce tobacco use.”

The 18th annual “State of Tobacco Control” report grades states and the federal government on policies proven to prevent and reduce tobacco use.

Washington’s 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 F

Minimum Age of Sale for Tobacco Products to 21 – Grade B

The American Lung Association encourages Washington to put in place all the public policies called for in “State of Tobacco Control,” and this year’s report noted the need to focus on increasing funding for tobacco prevention and quit smoking programs.

 “Despite Washington receiving over $548 million from tobacco settlement payments and tobacco taxes, the state only appropriates $2.1 million for  tobacco prevention and control efforts. The revenue from tobacco in Washington state should be used to provide education on the health harms of electronic devices, prevent tobacco use and help smokers quit,” said Nyssen. 

Since Congress failed to pass legislation to eliminate all flavored tobacco products, the need for state action to end the sale of all flavored products is 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 Washington and other 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 Washington 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 Washington to  take this opportunity to achieve lasting reductions in tobacco-related death and disease,” said Nyssen. 

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 206-512-3292. 

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