New Lung Association Report: Ending Tobacco Use in Connecticut Critical to Saving Lives, Especially during Pandemic

Connecticut earns two failing grades on state report card; Lung Association calls on state officials to restore tobacco control funding in 2021 to end tobacco use, youth vaping and save lives

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  while Connecticut has taken some steps to reduce tobacco use, elected officials must act to prohibit the sale of flavored tobacco products in the state, restore state funding for tobacco prevention and cessation programs, and close the loopholes in Connecticut’s smokefree air laws.

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. 

“In Connecticut, our high school tobacco use rate remains at 28.7%. 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  Connecticut to implement the proven measures outlined in ‘State of Tobacco Control’  to prevent and reduce tobacco use,” said American Lung Association’s Director of Advocacy in Connecticut, Ruth Canovi.

Connecticut’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. Connecticut received the following grades: 

  1. Funding for State Tobacco Prevention Programs – Grade F
  2. Strength of Smokefree Workplace Laws – Grade C
  3. Level of State Tobacco Taxes – Grade B
  4. Coverage and Access to Services to Quit Tobacco – Grade C
  5. NEW! Ending the Sale of All Flavored Tobacco Products   - Grade F

The American Lung Association encourages Connecticut 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 increasing funding for tobacco prevention and quit smoking programs, a category where the state continues to earn a failing grade.  An investment in prevention is especially important now given the ongoing youth vaping epidemic. 

“Connecticut is one of only two states in the nation that provides no state funding at all for tobacco prevention programs, severely hampering the state’s ability to respond to the youth vaping epidemic and tobacco use disparities.  To make matters worse, the state receives $473 million from tobacco settlement payments and tobacco taxes yet puts no state dollars towards preventing youth tobacco addiction.  The federal funds that the state receives for tobacco prevention and cessation is equivalent to just 3.6% of what the CDC recommends we spend for a quality program.. This equation is unacceptable and our elected officials must act to redirect funds to be used to support the health of our communities, and to prevent tobacco use and help smokers quit, and not switch to e-cigarettes.” said Canovi.

With 1 in 5 teens vaping, and no local resources on prevention and cessation, our children are becoming the next generation addicted to tobacco. Youth vaping and tobacco use overall is largely driven by flavored tobacco products, which is why 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. Connecticut also earned a failing grade in this category, signaling another call to action.

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 Connecticut is key to ending the youth e-cigarette epidemic and youth tobacco use overall. We call on legislators in Hartford to prohibit the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including menthol.” said Canovi.

In addition to restoring tobacco control funding and ending the sale of all flavored tobacco products, the report urges legislators to close the loopholes in Connecticut’s indoor smokefree air law to help address the disproportionate ways tobacco impacts our communities. The U.S. Surgeon General has concluded there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke. 

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 states like Connecticut 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 Connecticut to act and take this opportunity to achieve lasting reductions in tobacco-related death and disease,” said Canovi.

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 516-680-8927. 

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