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

Virginia earns all failing grades, Lung Association calls on state officials to license tobacco product retailers, increase program funding in 2021 to end tobacco use, youth vaping and save lives

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 Virginia earned failing grades on reducing and preventing 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 Virginia has the opportunity to take action and policy to increase tobacco tax and create parity among other tobacco products, comprehensive retail licensing and removing all flavored products from the market in order to support public health and save lives in 2020. The need for Virginia 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 Virginia, our adult smoking rates are 14% and our high school tobacco use rates are 22.5%. 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 Virginia to implement the proven measures outlined in ‘State of Tobacco Control’ to prevent and reduce tobacco use,” said American Lung Association Director of Advocacy Aleks Casper. 

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 elected officials should do more to save lives and ensure all Virginians 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.

Virginia’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. 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 F
5.    NEW! Ending the Sale of All Flavored Tobacco Products   - Grade F

The American Lung Association encourages Virginia 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 implementing a comprehensive evidence-based approach to address tobacco use among both youth and adults. This approach should include licensing all tobacco product retailers, increasing tobacco taxes, and increasing funding for tobacco prevention and control programs.

Currently, Virginia does not require tobacco and e-cigarette retailers to obtain a tobacco retail license. According to data, strong retail licensing requirements have been found to reduce youth e-cigarette and tobacco use. “A retail licensing plan should include e-cigarette retailers, annual renewal, graduated penalties for violations with suspension and revocation provisions and required retailer education. Without a comprehensive tobacco retail license program, Virginia cannot effectively reinforce, educate, monitor or penalize illegal sales of tobacco products,” said Casper.  Legislation is required to maintain a comprehensive list of retailers in the Commonwealth, promote retailer education and train and monitor retailer compliance through required compliance checks.  House Bill 2164 takes an important first step in putting the infrastructure in place for a tobacco retail licensing program. The proposed legislation also removes the youth purchase, use and possession penalties targeted at kids which have not been shown to be effective in reducing youth access.  

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 Virginia 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 Virginia to act and take this opportunity to achieve lasting reductions in tobacco-related death and disease,” said Casper 

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 717-971-1123. 
 

For more information, contact:

Valerie Gleason
717-971-1123
[email protected]

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