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

Maine earns three A grades but Lung Association urges state officials to restrict flavored tobacco products and increase the tobacco tax 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 while Maine has taken significant steps to reduce tobacco use, illustrated by its three A grades in prevention and control program funding, smokefree air and access to cessation services, elected officials can do more to save lives by prohibiting flavored tobacco products and increasing the tobacco tax.

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 Maine, our high school tobacco use rate remains at an alarming 33%. 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  Maine to implement the proven measures outlined in ‘State of Tobacco Control’  to prevent and reduce tobacco use,” said American Lung Association Senior Division Director for State Public Policy and Maine resident, Lance Boucher.

Maine’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. Maine received the following grades: 

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

Boucher continued, “Mainers should not have a false sense of security with Maine’s report card. While Maine has some of the highest grades in the country, we still have a long way to go.”

The American Lung Association calls on the Maine Legislature and Governor Mills to take comprehensive action this session to address this public health crisis.  As the youth vaping epidemic continues, protecting youth from all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, is more urgent than ever.  Today, 1 in 5 teens are vaping and our children are becoming the next generation addicted to tobacco. Youth vaping  and  tobacco use overall is largely driven by flavored tobacco products, and 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. Maine’s failing grade in this category is a call for 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 menthol and all flavored tobacco products will not only help end youth vaping, but will also help address the disproportionate impact of tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke on communities of color. 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 Maine is key to ending the youth e-cigarette epidemic and youth tobacco use overall. We call on legislators in Augusta to prohibit the sale of menthol and all flavored tobacco products across the State of Maine.” said Boucher.

In addition to prohibiting flavored tobacco products, this year’s report noted the need to focus on increasing tobacco taxes and preserving funding for tobacco prevention and quit smoking programs. 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 Maine encourages Maine to increase cigarette taxes $2 per pack,” said Boucher.  “Maine is long overdue to increase the price of tobacco products having last raised the cigarette tax in 2005.  While we used to have the strongest tobacco tax in the northeast, we are know second to last.”

In addition to increased tobacco taxes, an investment in prevention is especially important.  Maine currently receives $190 million from tobacco settlement payments and tobacco taxes, but fails to meet the level of funding for tobacco control efforts recommended by the CDC. While the Mills Administration significantly increased tobacco funding in 2019, it is imperative for that significant investment in the tobacco control program to continue forward in the next biennial budget.  Funding for the tobacco control program is critical to sufficiently address the youth vaping epidemic and help current smokers quit.  The Lung Association believes the funds should be used to support the health of our communities, and to prevent tobacco use and help smokers quit, and not switch to e-cigarettes. 

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 (2020 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 Maine 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 Maine to act and take this opportunity to achieve lasting reductions in tobacco-related death and disease,” said Boucher 

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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