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

West Virginia earns F grades in tobacco cessation funding, tobacco taxes and access to cessation services, Lung Association calls on state officials to take action in 2020 to end tobacco use.

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 West 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 West Virginia officials to take action and increase funding for tobacco prevention and control programs in order to support public health and save lives in 2020.

The need for West 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 West Virginia, our tobacco use rates remain among the highest in the nation at 35% among adults and 26.6% among high school students. 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 West 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, West Virginia, 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 West Virginia residents benefit from reductions in tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke.

West Virginia’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 F

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

The American Lung Association encourages West 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 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 West Virginia receiving $235.5 million from tobacco settlement payments and tobacco taxes, the state funds tobacco control efforts at only 7.4% of the level recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The American Lung Association believes 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.

• 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 seven percent among youth. “To protect kids from a lifetime of nicotine addiction, the Lung Association in West Virginia encourages West Virginia to increase cigarette taxes by $1 per pack and equalize the tax on other tobacco products, including e-cigarettes with its cigarette tax. These steps are critical to West Virginia as current tobacco use, including vaping, among youth is 26.6%,” said Lawver.

• 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 and quitting can be difficult. West Virginia lawmakers have a powerful opportunity to help smokers quit by covering all quit smoking treatments in its Medicaid program, and for state employees. While West Virginia has taken steps by covering all FDA-approved tobacco cessation medications, access should also include all three forms of counseling without barriers, such as copays and prior authorization. Increasing the reach of the West Virginia Quitline for tobacco users is also essential. “Covering quit smoking treatments in West Virginia will not only help smokers quit and save lives, but it will also cut healthcare costs – a win-win for the health of West Virginia 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. 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 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 West 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 West Virginia to 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. 

West Virginia Local Smokefree Regulation Grades

The American Lung Association in West Virginia has evaluated regulations restricting smoking in all 55 West Virginia counties, and assigned them letter grades from A to F based on the strength of the regulation. The counties and grades are displayed in the chart below.

Thirty counties earned A grades, 12 earned B grades, 8 earned C grades, 3 earned D grades and 2 counties earned F grades. West Virginia received a “D” grade for Smokefree Air in the American Lung Association’s 2020 “State of Tobacco Control” report. This is due to the large percentage of West Virginia’s population covered by local smokefree regulations.  

County Grades:

Barbour County A, Berkeley County A, Boone County B, Braxton County A, Brooke County B, Cabell/Huntington County A, Calhoun County A, Clay County C, Doddridge County B, Fayette County B, Gilmer County F, Grant County A, Greenbrier County A, Hampshire County A, Hancock County B, Hardy County C, Harrison County A, Jackson County B, Jefferson County C, Kanawha/Charleston County A, Lewis County A, Lincoln County A, Logan County D, Marion County C, Marshall County B, Mason County A, McDowell County C, Mercer County C, Mineral County A, Mingo County C, Monongalia County A, Monroe County A, Morgan County B, Nicholas County A, Ohio/Wheeling County B, Pendleton County A, Pleasants County A, Pocahontas County A, Preston County A, Putnam County F, Raleigh/Beckley County C, Randolph County A, Ritchie County A, Roane County A, Summers County A, Taylor County A, Tucker County A, Tyler County D, Upshur County A, Wayne County B, Webster County B, Wetzel County D, Wirt County A, Wood County A and Wyoming County B.

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] 717-971-1123. 

For more information, contact:

Valerie Gleason
[email protected]

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