New Lung Association Report: Ending Tobacco Use in Washington, D.C. is Critical to Saving Lives, Especially during Pandemic

New Lung Association Report: Ending Tobacco Use in Washington, D.C. is Critical to Saving Lives, Especially during Pandemic The District of Columbia earns F grades in Removing Flavored Tobacco Product

Even amid the pandemic, tobacco use remains a serious public health threat. In addition to tobacco-related death and disease, smoking also increases the risk of the most severe impacts of COVID-19, making ending tobacco use more important than ever. This year’s “State of Tobacco Control” report from the American Lung Association grades federal and state efforts to reduce tobacco use and calls for meaningful policies that will prevent and reduce tobacco use and save lives. The report finds that the District had mixed progress on its efforts 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. Much like COVID-19, tobacco use and secondhand smoke exposure disproportionately impacts certain communities, including communities of color, LGTBQ+ Americans and persons of lower income. To address this critical public health threat, “State of Tobacco Control” provides a roadmap for the federal and state policies needed to prevent and reduce tobacco use.

This year’s 19th annual report finds that in 2021 the District has the opportunity to take action and pass policy removing all flavored tobacco products from the market, increase tobacco prevention and control program funding and improve the Medicaid coverage for tobacco cessation treatments in order to support public health and save lives in 2021. The need for the Council 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 19th annual 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 the District, our adult smoking rates are 12.7% and our high school tobacco use rate is 17.2%. The surge in youth vaping combined with the fact that smoking increases the chance of severe COVID-19 symptoms, make it more important than ever for the District to implement the proven measures outlined in ‘State of Tobacco Control’ to prevent and reduce tobacco use,” said American Lung Association Director of Advocacy Aleks Casper.

The 19th 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 the District has taken significant steps to reduce tobacco use, including the efforts of a very active tobacco coalition working to support and amend legislation that was introduced in 2020 to remove all flavored tobacco products from the market, the Council should do more to save lives and ensure all District residents benefit from reductions in tobacco use. This is especially the case during the pandemic. 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.

The District’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. The District received the following grades:

  • Funding for State Tobacco Prevention Programs – Grade F
  • Strength of Smokefree Workplace Laws – Grade A
  • Level of State Tobacco Taxes – Grade A
  • Coverage and Access to Services to Quit Tobacco – Grade C
  • NEW! Ending the Sale of All Flavored Tobacco Products   - Grade F

The American Lung Association encourages the Council to put in place all the public policies called for in “State of Tobacco Control.” In particular, this year’s report noted the need to focus on:

Ending the sale of all flavored tobacco products.  In 2019, about 8,000 kids began vaping every day – typically with flavored e-cigarettes – setting them up for a lifetime of addiction to nicotine. Ending the sale of flavored tobacco products, including menthol, will not only help end youth vaping, but will also help address the disproportionate impact of tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke on Black and Brown communities. Menthol cigarettes remain a key vector for tobacco-related death and disease in Black communities, with nearly 85% of Black Americans who smoke using them. “Kids follow the flavors and ending the sale of all flavored tobacco products in the District is key to ending the youth e-cigarette epidemic and youth tobacco use overall. We call on the Council to prohibit the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including menthol, across the District” said Casper.

Increasing funding for tobacco prevention and quit smoking programs. An investment in prevention is especially important given the ongoing youth vaping epidemic. “Despite receiving $2,888,443 from tobacco settlement payments and tobacco taxes, the District only funds tobacco control efforts at 27% of the level recommended by the CDC. The Lung Association believes the funds should be used to support the health of 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 Casper.

Covering and providing FDA-approved quit smoking treatments for state residents. Nearly seven out of 10 smokers want to quit, but nicotine, including the nicotine found in e-cigarettes, is highly addictive. Quitting is difficult and despite the high number of smokers that want to quit, only about 10% currently do. The District lawmakers can help smokers quit by covering all quit smoking treatments in its Medicaid program, and for state employees. This should include access to all seven FDA-approved tobacco cessation medications and all three forms of counseling without barriers, such as copays and prior authorization. It’s also essential to increase the reach of the District’s Quitline or phone counseling service to help tobacco users quit. “Covering quit smoking treatments in the District is a win-win because it will not only help smokers quit and save lives, but it will also cut healthcare costs,” said Casper.

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 the District 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. Because of COVID-19, we are all thinking more about lung health. Now is the time for lawmakers in the District to act and take this opportunity to achieve lasting reductions in tobacco-related death and disease,” said Casper.

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 Valerie Gleason, American Lung Association at [email protected] or 717-971-1123.

For more information, contact:

Valerie Gleason
717-971-1123
[email protected]

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