New Lung Association Report: Ending Tobacco Use in Oklahoma 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 Oklahoma had mixed grades 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 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. 

This year’s 19th annual report finds that in 2021 Oklahoma has the opportunity to take action and repeal local preemption and regulate e-cigarettes in order to support public health and save lives. The need for Oklahoma 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 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.

“In Oklahoma, our high school tobacco use rates remain at 30.8%. 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 Oklahoma to implement the proven measures outlined in ‘State of Tobacco Control’ to prevent and reduce tobacco use,” said American Lung Association Advocacy Director Charlie Gagen. 

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 Oklahoma has taken significant steps to reduce tobacco use, including the coming Medicaid Expansion which will further increase access to cessation programs, elected officials should do more to save lives and ensure all Oklahoma 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, including communities of color, LGBTQ+ Americans and persons of lower income, and outlines solutions to close this gap.

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

The American Lung Association encourages Oklahoma 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 repealing local preemption and passing a comprehensive smokefree law. The U.S. Surgeon General has concluded there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke. Current state law prevents localities from 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. This health protection would benefit everyone, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Secondhand smoke should be deadly enough for states to go smokefree but allowing smoking indoors compromises the use of masks and smokers can spread the virus when they exhale” said Gagen
 
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 Oklahoma 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 Oklahoma to act and take this opportunity to achieve lasting reductions in tobacco-related death and disease,” said Gagen.

For more information, contact:

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

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