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

Virginia earns F grades in tobacco control programs and cigarette tax, Lung Association calls on state officials to do more in in 2020 to end tobacco use, youth vaping epidemic and save lives

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 Virginia earned failing grades on its efforts to reduce and prevent tobacco use, including e-cigarettes. The American Lung Association finds opportunities in 2020 for Virginia officials to take action by increasing the tobacco tax and increasing funding to important tobacco control programs, and implementing a comprehensive retail licensing program in order to support public health and save lives in 2020.

The need for Virginia 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 Virginia, our tobacco use rates remain at 22.1%. 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 Virginia 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 Virginia, Aleks Casper. 

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

Virginia’s Grades:

• Funding for State Tobacco Prevention Programs – Grade F

• Strength of Smokefree Workplace Laws - Grade F

• Level of State Tobacco Taxes - Grade F

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

• Minimum Age of Sale for Tobacco Products to 21 – Grade D

The American Lung Association encourages Virginia 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 tobacco taxes. 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% increase in the price of cigarettes reduces consumption by about 4% among adults and about 7% among youth. “To protect kids from a lifetime of nicotine addiction, the Lung Association in Virginia encourages Virginia to increase cigarette taxes by $1.50 per pack and equalize the tax on other tobacco products, including e-cigarettes with its cigarette tax. The revenue generated from the tax should be spent to increase tobacco control prevention and cessation programs including Quit Now VA and the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth prevention programming,” said Casper.

• Licensing tobacco product retailers. Currently, Virginia does not require tobacco and e-cigarette retailers to obtain a tobacco retail license. Without a comprehensive tobacco retail license program, Virginia cannot effectively enforce, educate, monitor or penalize illegal sales of tobacco products. A comprehensive retail licensing program to include annual renewal, graduated penalties for violations with suspension and revocation provisions and required retailer education are evidenced-based approaches that could provide a sustainable funding source for enforcement. House Bill 1283 before the General Assembly outlines a strong approach. These steps are critical to Virginia as current tobacco use, including vaping, among youth is 16.3%,” said Casper.

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. Virtually all adult smokers had their first cigarette before age 21, and most before the age of 18. 

However, 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 Virginia to follow Massachusetts’ lead and pass a comprehensive law eliminating flavored tobacco products in 2020 as outlined in House Bill 1119.

“State of Tobacco Control” 2020 provides an important roadmap on how states like Virginia 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 Virginia to end their failure to act and take this opportunity to achieve lasting reductions in tobacco-related death and disease,” said Casper. 

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 717-971-1123. 

For more information, contact:

Valerie Gleason
[email protected]

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