Virginia Named Among Worst in Nation for Policies to Prevent and Reduce Tobacco Use

American Lung Association report reveals best and worst states for tobacco control policies, outlines steps to reduce burden of tobacco in Virginia
Virginia is listed is among states with the worst policies to prevent and reduce tobacco use, according to the American Lung Association’s 21st annual “State of Tobacco Control” report, released today. The state earned mostly failing grades on this year’s report but does receive a thumb’s up for providing comprehensive coverage for all tobacco cessation medications and types of counseling with minimal barriers to Medicaid enrollees in 2022.

The “State of Tobacco Control” report evaluates state and federal policies on actions taken to eliminate tobacco use and recommends proven-effective tobacco control laws and policies to save lives. This is critical, as tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease in America and takes the lives of 10,310 Virginia residents each year.

“Virginia lags behind when it comes to tobacco control policies, and as a result, we have adult smoking rates at 12.4% and a higher than national average high school tobacco use rate of 22.5%,” said Aleks Casper, Director of Advocacy at the American Lung Association in Virginia. “This gives us an important opportunity to improve the health of the Commonwealth through a proven and comprehensive approach which include policies, such as requiring tobacco retailers to obtain a license, tobacco taxes and repealing the tobacco surcharge in healthcare premiums to increase access tobacco cessation services.”

Virginia’s Grades 
The “State of Tobacco Control” report grades states and the District of Columbia in five areas that have been proven to prevent and reduce tobacco use and save lives. In the 2023 report, Virginia received the following grades: 
1.    Funding for State Tobacco Prevention Programs – Grade F
2.    Strength of Smokefree Workplace Laws – Grade F
3.    Level of State Tobacco Taxes – Grade F
4.    Coverage and Access to Services to Quit Tobacco – Grade D
5.    Ending the Sale of All Flavored Tobacco Products – Grade F 

This year’s report noted the need for Virginia policymakers to focus on: 
 
Addressing tobacco use through a comprehensive evidence-based approach. 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 and create parity among products. Virginia's tobacco taxes are one of the lowest in the nation and should be addressed as part of a comprehensive plan to address tobacco use.  Lawmakers should not permit any roll backs or decreases in rates on specific products as tobacco taxes are critical to reducing tobacco use in the Commonwealth. An additional part of this comprehensive approach would be the licensing of tobacco retailers in the Commonwealth. The Lung Association urges the Commonwealth to require tobacco product retailers to obtain a license for a comprehensive tobacco retail license program with annual renewal of the license, graduated penalties for violations including suspension and revocation provisions and required retailer education.  

Funding for tobacco prevention and quit smoking programs. An investment in prevention is especially important given the ongoing youth vaping epidemic. Despite receiving $425.3 million from tobacco settlement payments and tobacco taxes, Virginia only funds tobacco control efforts at 15% of the level recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  The Lung Association believes the tobacco settlement funds should be used to support the health of our communities, and to prevent tobacco use and help people quit, and not switch to e-cigarettes. These programs are also critical for helping to end tobacco-related health disparities. 

Federal Grades Overview
The report also grades the federal government on their efforts to eliminate tobacco use. This year, there were new steps taken by the government to prevent and reduce tobacco use, including proposed rules to end the sale of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars, Congress passing a law requiring the FDA to regulate tobacco products made with synthetic nicotine, and increased federal enforcement of the Tobacco Control Act. As a result of these steps forward, the federal government’s grade for “Federal Regulation of Tobacco Products” improved from a “D” grade last year, to a “C” grade in the 2023 report.

The 2023 “State of Tobacco Control” report grades the federal government in five areas: 
•    Federal Government Regulation of Tobacco Products – Grade C
•    Federal Coverage of Quit Smoking Treatments – Grade D
•    Level of Federal Tobacco Taxes – Grade F
•    Federal Mass Media Campaigns to Prevent and Reduce Tobacco Use – Grade A
•    Federal Minimum Age of Sale for Tobacco Products to 21 – Incomplete

FDA is overdue in publishing the final Tobacco 21 regulations as required by statute, which is why it earns an “incomplete.”  

To learn more about this year’s “State of Tobacco Control” grades and take action, visit Lung.org/sotc.
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