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

Rhode Island earns D grade in new flavored tobacco category, Lung Association calls on state officials to increase prevention and control funding in 2021 to end tobacco use, youth vaping and save liv

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 Rhode Island had mixed grades on its efforts to reduce and prevent tobacco use, earning an F grade for tobacco prevention and control funding and a D grade for flavored tobacco products.

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 Rhode Island, our high school tobacco use rate remains at 33.3%. 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  Rhode Island to implement the proven measures outlined in ‘State of Tobacco Control’  to prevent and reduce tobacco use,” said American Lung Association  Senior Manager of Advocacy in Rhode Island, Daniel Fitzgerald. 

Rhode Island’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. Rhode Island received the following grades: 

  1. Funding for State Tobacco Prevention Programs – Grade F
  2. Strength of Smokefree Workplace Laws – Grade A
  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 D 

The 19th annual “State of Tobacco Control” report finds that while Rhode Island has taken significant steps to reduce tobacco use, including prohibiting the sale of flavored e-cigarettes in the state, elected officials must do more to protect youth from all tobacco products.  With 1 in 5 teens vaping, 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.  Rhode Island received a D grade in this category, recognizing its progress in restricting flavored e-cigarettes in all locations, but calling for further action prohibiting the sale all flavored tobacco including menthol cigarettes.

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

The American Lung Association also encourages Rhode Island to increase funding for prevention and control funding, equalize taxes for all tobacco products, and prohibit the sale of tobacco products in pharmacies.  

An investment in prevention is especially important given the ongoing youth vaping epidemic. “Despite receiving over $188 million from tobacco settlement payments and tobacco taxes, Rhode Island only funds tobacco control efforts at 13.5% of the level recommended by the CDC. 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. These programs are also critical for helping to end tobacco-related health disparities” said Fitzgerald.

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 Rhode Island 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 Rhode Island to act and take this opportunity to achieve lasting reductions in tobacco-related death and disease,” said Fitzgerald. 

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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