'State of Tobacco Control' Report: Tennessee One of Worst States for Work to Prevent Tobacco Use, Prioritize Public Health

State Earns 'F' Grades in Tobacco Prevention and Control Funding, Tobacco Taxes, Access to Cessation Services

Today, the American Lung Association released the 18th annual “State of Tobacco Control” report, which finds that in 2019 Tennessee earned mostly failing grades on its efforts to reduce and prevent tobacco use, including e-cigarettes. In fact, Tennessee was one of the worst in the nation, earning four “F” grades and one “D.” The Lung Association finds opportunities in 2020 for Tennessee officials to take action by updating the legal sales age of tobacco products, establishing a tax on e-cigarettes equivalent to the current tax on combustible cigarettes, and increasing funding for tobacco prevention and control programs in order to support public health and save lives in 2020.

This year’s “State of Tobacco Control” calls for proven tobacco control policies in light of the fact that the country’s youth vaping epidemic worsened in 2019. The need for Tennessee to take action to protect youth from all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, is more urgent than ever, with the youth vaping epidemic continuing its alarming rise to 27.5%. This is a staggering 135% increase in high school e-cigarette use in just the past two years, and close to three million more kids started vaping in that time period, setting them up for a lifetime of addiction.

“In Tennessee, our smoking rate remains at 20%. Sadly, with the youth vaping epidemic still rising, we may have squandered an opportunity to make the current generation of kids the first tobacco-free generation. Tobacco use is a serious addiction and Tennessee needs to implement the proven measures to prevent and reduce tobacco use outlined in ‘State of Tobacco Control,’” said Shannon Baker, advocacy director for the Lung Association. 

The “State of Tobacco Control” report grades states and the federal government on policies proven to prevent and reduce tobacco use. The report finds that elected officials should do more to ensure all Tennessee residents benefit from reductions in tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke.

Tennessee’s Grades:

  • Funding for State Tobacco Prevention Programs – Grade F
  • Strength of Smokefree Workplace Laws - Grade D
  • Level of State Tobacco Taxes - Grade F
  • Coverage and Access to Services to Quit Tobacco - Grade F
  • Minimum Age of Sale for Tobacco Products to 21 – Grade F

The Lung Association encourages Tennessee to put in place all the public policies called for in “State of Tobacco Control.” This year’s report noted the need to focus on:

  1. Updating the legal sales age of tobacco products and establishing retail licensure, inspections, and penalties for violations;
  2. Establishing a tax on e-cigarettes equivalent to the current tax on combustible cigarettes; and 
  3. Increasing funding for tobacco prevention and control programs.

One of the most effective ways to reduce tobacco use, not only among low-income individuals but also for youth is to tax all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes. Multiple studies have shown that every 10% increase in the price of cigarettes reduces consumption by about 4% among adults and about 7% among youth. 

“To protect kids from a lifetime of nicotine addiction, the Lung Association encourages Tennessee to equalize the tax on all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, with its cigarette tax. This step is critical to Tennessee as current tobacco use, including vaping, among youth is 20%,” said Baker.

An investment in prevention is especially important given the skyrocketing number of youth who are vaping. 

“Despite Tennessee receiving $424 million from tobacco settlement payments and tobacco taxes, the state funds tobacco control efforts at only 4.6% of the level recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The American Lung Association believes the funds should be used to support the health of our communities, to prevent tobacco use and help smokers quit, not switch,” said Baker.

The question remains, will 2020 be the year that public health is prioritized over tobacco product manufacturers so that another generation is spared the addiction to dangerous tobacco products?

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