American Lung Association ‘State of Tobacco Control’ Report Highlights Opportunity for Pennsylvania to Prioritize Public Health over the Tobacco Industry

Pennsylvania earns F grade in both Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Programs and Tobacco Taxes, Lung Association calls on state officials to increase funding 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 all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes. The  18th annual report finds that in 2019, Pennsylvania made little progress on its efforts to reduce and prevent tobacco use, including e-cigarettes. Overall, the states grades, which consist of 2 F’s, 3 D’s and an Incomplete, signal a failure to support public health. 

The American Lung Association finds opportunities in 2020 for Pennsylvania officials to take action and increase funding for tobacco prevention and cessation programs, as well as close the loopholes in the Clean Indoor Air Act in order to save lives in 2020.

The need for Pennsylvania 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, and close to three million more kids started vaping in that time period, setting them up for a lifetime of addiction.

“In Pennsylvania, our smoking rates remain at 17%. Sadly, with the youth vaping epidemic still rising, we may have lost an opportunity to make the current generation of kids the first tobacco-free generation. Tobacco use is a serious addiction and Delaware needs to implement the proven measures to prevent and reduce tobacco use outlined in ‘State of Tobacco Control’,” said American Lung Association Director of Advocacy in Pennsylvania, Sarah Lawver. 

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 elected officials should do more to save lives and ensure all Pennsylvania residents benefit from reductions in tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke.

Pennsylvania’s Grades:

• Funding for State Tobacco Prevention Programs – Grade F

• Strength of Smokefree Workplace Laws - Grade D

• Level of State Tobacco Taxes - Grade F

• Coverage and Access to Services to Quit Tobacco - Grade D

• Minimum Age of Sale for Tobacco Products to 21 – Grade I (incomplete, takes effect 1/1/2020)

The American Lung Association encourages Pennsylvania 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 funding for tobacco prevention and quit smoking programs. An investment in prevention is especially important given the skyrocketing number of youth who are vaping. “Despite Pennsylvania receiving $1,706,500,000. from tobacco settlement payments and tobacco taxes, the state funds tobacco control efforts at only 12.8% of the level recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The American Lung Association believe the funds should be used to support the health of our communities, and to prevent tobacco use and help smokers quit, not switch,” said Lawver.

• Passing a comprehensive smokefree law. The U.S. Surgeon General has concluded there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke. If Pennsylvania passed a comprehensive smokefree law that eliminates smoking in all public places and workplaces, including restaurants, bars and casinos, workers across the state would be protected from deadly secondhand smoke. E-cigarettes should also be included in comprehensive smokefree laws. This health protection would benefit everyone and is especially critical for those who work in the service and manufacturing sectors and 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 while they are working to put food on the table,” said Lawver.

• Create tax parity between cigarettes and other tobacco products. One of the most effective ways to reduce tobacco use, not only among low-income individuals but also for youth is to significantly increase the tax on all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes. 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. “To protect kids from a lifetime of nicotine addiction, the Lung Association in Pennsylvania encourages Pennsylvania to increase cigarette taxes  and equalize the tax on other tobacco products, including cigars and smokeless tobacco. These steps are critical to Pennsylvania as current tobacco use, including vaping, among youth is 18.7%” said Lawver.

• Providing FDA-approved quit smoking treatments for Pennsylvania residents. Nearly seven out of 10 smokers want to quit, but nicotine, including the nicotine found in e-cigarettes, is highly addictive and quitting can be difficult. Pennsylvania lawmakers have a powerful opportunity to 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. Increasing the reach of the Pennsylvania Quitline for tobacco users will also help to protect the health of Pennsylvanians. “Covering quit smoking treatments in Pennsylvania will not only help smokers quit and save lives, but it will also cut healthcare costs―a win-win for the health of Pennsylvania residents and the economy,” said Lawver.

One 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. In 2019, Pennsylvania was one of the 13 states that moved forward with increasing the tobacco sales age to 21 this year, however this legislation was considerably weakened due to a military exemption being amended into the bill. Closing this loophole is essential, virtually all adult smokers had their first cigarette before age 21, and most before the age of 18. 

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. 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 Pennsylvania 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 Pennsylvania end their failure to act and take this opportunity to achieve lasting reductions in tobacco-related death and disease,” said Lawver. 

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

For more information, contact:

Valerie Gleason
[email protected]

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