New Lung Association Report: Ending Tobacco Use in North Carolina Critical to Saving Lives, Especially during Pandemic

North Carolina earns all failing grades, Lung Association calls on state officials to increase funding for tobacco control programs in 2021 to end tobacco use, youth vaping

Today, the American Lung Association released the 19th annual “State of Tobacco Control” report, which reveals that North Carolina received all failing grades for its efforts to reduce and prevent tobacco use, including e-cigarettes. This year’s report grades federal and state efforts to reduce tobacco use and calls for meaningful policies that will prevent and reduce tobacco use and save lives.

Even amid the pandemic, tobacco use remains a serious public health threat. Tobacco use is the nation’s leading cause of preventable death and disease, taking an estimated 480,000 lives every year. In addition to tobacco-related death and disease, cigarette smokers are at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19, making ending tobacco use more important than ever. Cigarette smoking compromises the immune system, is linked to lung inflammation and puts people at greater risk for pulmonary infection. Also, smoking harms the airway lining cells that contain cilia, which are our essential defenders against viruses like COVID-19. Without them working properly, lungs are more vulnerable.

This year’s report recommends that North Carolina lawmakers take action to increase funding to state tobacco control programs to support public health and save lives. The need for North Carolina to take action to protect youth from all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, is more urgent than ever, with the youth vaping epidemic continuing. With 1 in 5 teens vaping, our children are becoming the next generation addicted to tobacco. Youth vaping and tobacco use overall is largely driven by flavored tobacco products, and our report has added a new state grade calling for policies to end the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes, flavored e-cigarettes and flavored cigars.

“In North Carolina, our adult smoking rate remains at 18.5% and 35.5% of high school students use e-cigarettes. The surge in youth vaping combined with the fact that cigarette smoking increases risk of severe illness from COVID-19, make it more important than ever for North Carolina to implement the proven measures outlined in ‘State of Tobacco Control’ to prevent and reduce tobacco use,” said June Deen, director of advocacy for the Lung Association.  

The report finds that elected officials should do more to save lives and ensure all residents benefit from reductions in tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke. The report also explores the fact that tobacco use and secondhand smoke exposure disproportionately impacts certain communities, including communities of color, LGBTQ+ Americans and persons of lower income, and outlines solutions to close this gap.

North Carolina’s Grades 
“State of Tobacco Control” 2021 grades states and the District of Columbia in five areas that have been proven to prevent and reduce tobacco use and save lives. North Carolina received the following grades: 

  1. Funding for State Tobacco Prevention Programs – Grade F
  2. Strength of Smokefree Workplace Laws – Grade F
  3. Level of State Tobacco Taxes – Grade F
  4. Coverage and Access to Services to Quit Tobacco – Grade F
  5. NEW! Ending the Sale of All Flavored Tobacco Products   - Grade F

The Lung Association encourages North Carolina to put in place all the public policies called for in “State of Tobacco Control.” 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 ongoing youth vaping epidemic. 

“Despite receiving $447 million from tobacco settlement payments and tobacco taxes, North Carolina only funds tobacco control efforts at 4.2% of the level recommended by the CDC. The Lung Association believes more funds should be used to support public health in our communities, and to prevent tobacco use and help smokers quit, and not switch to e-cigarettes. These programs are also critical for helping to end tobacco-related health disparities,” said Deen.

Federal Grades Overview
“State of Tobacco Control” 2021 also grades the federal government in five areas: 

  • Federal Government Regulation of Tobacco Products (2021 grade – D)
  • Federal Coverage of Quit Smoking Treatments (2021 grade – D)
  • Level of Federal Tobacco Taxes (2021 grade – F)
  • Federal Mass Media Campaigns to Prevent and Reduce Tobacco Use (2021 grade – A)
  • Federal Minimum Age of Sale for Tobacco Products to 21 (2021 grade – A)

“’State of Tobacco Control’ 2021 provides an important roadmap on how states like North Carolina 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. It is time for lawmakers in North Carolina to act and achieve lasting reductions in tobacco-related death and disease,” said Deen.  

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 312-940-7001. 

For more information, contact:

Jill Dale
312-940-7001
[email protected]

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