20 Years of Tobacco Control in Tennessee: New Report Shows Significant Progress, Need to Close Loopholes in State Smokefree Law

New report reveals Tennessee tobacco control successes over past 20 years, and outlines path to end tobacco use and save lives

The American Lung Association’s 20th annual “State of Tobacco Control” report, released today, finds that Tennessee earned failing grades on passing policies to reduce and prevent tobacco use, including e-cigarettes. 

The “State of Tobacco Control” report evaluates state and federal policymakers on actions taken to eliminate tobacco use, the nation’s leading cause of preventable death. The report also recommends proven-effective tobacco control laws and policies to save lives.

Here in Tennessee, in the last 20 years, lawmakers have made significant strides to reduce tobacco use, like adding e-cigarettes to existing smokefree protections and restoring state funding for the Tennessee Tobacco Program to $2 million and designating funding as a recurring line item in the annual budget, however, there is more work to be done. In Tennessee, the adult smoking rate is still 19.5%, and the high school tobacco use rate is 27.9%. 

“While we have seen considerable progress, tobacco use remains our leading cause of preventable death and disease, taking an estimated 11,380 lives each year in Tennessee,” said Shannon Baker, Director of Advocacy at the Lung Association. “And our progress on tobacco control policy has not been equal. We continue to see the unequal burden of tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke in communities experiencing health disparities.”

“State of Tobacco Control” 2022 grades states and the District of Columbia in five areas that have been proven to prevent and reduce tobacco use and save lives. Tennessee received the following grades: 

Tennessee’s Grades
1.    Funding for State Tobacco Prevention Programs – Grade F
2.    Strength of Smokefree Air Laws – Grade C
3.    Level of State Tobacco Taxes – Grade F
4.    Coverage and Access to Services to Quit Tobacco – Grade F
5.    Ending the Sale of All Flavored Tobacco Products – Grade F

This year’s report noted the need for Tennessee policymakers to focus on closing loopholes in the state’s smokefree law, especially for age-restricted venues. 

“The U.S. Surgeon General has concluded there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke,” said Baker. “Passing a comprehensive smokefree law that eliminates smoking in all public places and workplaces, including restaurants, bars and casinos, would protect workers across the state from deadly secondhand smoke. E-cigarettes should also be included in comprehensive smokefree laws.”

Policymakers should also focus on increasing funding for tobacco prevention and quit smoking programs to $4 million. An investment in prevention is especially important given the ongoing youth vaping epidemic. 

“Despite receiving $411,600,000 from tobacco settlement payments and tobacco taxes, Tennessee only funds tobacco control efforts at 4.8% of the level recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The Lung Association believes the funds should be used to support the health of our communities, and to prevent tobacco use and help people quit, and not switch to e-cigarettes. These programs are also critical for helping to end tobacco-related health disparities,” said Baker.

Federal Grades Overview
Nationally, the report reveals significant progress in the work to end tobacco use, but products like e-cigarettes and other flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes, create concern for losing another generation to nicotine addiction.

“State of Tobacco Control” 2022 also grades the federal government in five areas: 
•    Federal Government Regulation of Tobacco Products (2022 grade – D)
•    Federal Coverage of Quit Smoking Treatments (2022 grade – D)
•    Level of Federal Tobacco Taxes (2022 grade – F)
•    Federal Mass Media Campaigns to Prevent and Reduce Tobacco Use (2022 grade – A)
•    Federal Minimum Age of Sale for Tobacco Products to 21 (2022 grade – I*)

* The Incomplete grade is for the FDA being more than 18 months overdue in publishing the final Tobacco 21 regulations as required by statute.

“In 2022, Tennessee needs to redouble their efforts to pass the proven policies called for in ‘State of Tobacco Control’ to help end tobacco use. We cannot afford to wait 20 more years and allow another generation to suffer from tobacco-caused addiction, disease and death,” said Baker.

For more information, contact:

James A. Martinez
(312) 445-2501
[email protected]

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