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

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 Hawai‘i earned mixed progress on its efforts to reduce and prevent tobacco use, including e-cigarettes.

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 Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, LGTBQ+ populations and people 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. 

This year’s 19th annual report finds that in 2021 Hawai‘i has the opportunity to take action and create tax parity among tobacco products and eliminating the sale of all flavored tobacco products in order to support public health and save lives. The need for our local lawmakers to take action to protect youth from all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, is more urgent than ever, with the youth vaping epidemic continuing.  

“With 1 in 3 high schoolers in Hawai‘i vaping, our youth are becoming the next generation addicted to tobacco. Youth vaping and tobacco use overall are 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,” said Pedro Haro, Executive Director of the American Lung Association in Hawai‘i. “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  Hawai‘i to implement the proven measures outlined in ‘State of Tobacco Control’ to prevent and reduce tobacco use.” 

The 19th annual “State of Tobacco Control” report grades states and the federal government on policies proven to prevent and reduce tobacco use, and finds that while Hawai‘i has taken significant steps to reduce tobacco use, including increasing the funding for tobacco prevention and control programs, elected officials should do more to save lives and ensure all island residents benefit from reductions in tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke. This is especially the case during the pandemic. The report also explores the fact that tobacco use and secondhand smoke exposure disproportionately impacts certain communities and outlines solutions to close this gap.

Hawai‘i’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. Hawai‘i received the following grades:

1.    Funding for State Tobacco Prevention Programs – Grade C
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 B
5.    NEW! Ending the Sale of All Flavored Tobacco Products   - Grade F 

The American Lung Association encourages Hawai‘i 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 ending the sale of all flavored tobacco products.  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 communities of color. Menthol cigarettes remain a key vector for tobacco-related death and disease in Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander communities, with a substantial portion of that population who smoke using them. “Youth are drawn to the flavors and ending the sale of all flavored tobacco products in Hawai‘i is key to ending the youth e-cigarette epidemic and youth tobacco use overall. We call on our local legislators to prohibit the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including menthol across our islands,” said Haro.
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 Hawai‘i 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 to act and take this opportunity to achieve lasting reductions in tobacco-related death and disease,” said Haro.

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