West Virginia Named Among the 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 West
West Virginia is listed as among the worst states for 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.

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 4,280 West Virginia residents each year.

“West Virginia lags behind when it comes to tobacco control policies, and as a result, we have higher than average adult smoking rates at 22% and 40.6% of high school students use a tobacco product,” said Lance Boucher, Division Assistant Vice President, Eastern, at the American Lung Association. “This gives us an important opportunity to improve the health of our state through proven policies, such as increasing funding for tobacco prevention and cessation programs aligned with the Centers for Disease Control recommended level.”

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

This year’s report noted the need for West Virginia policymakers to focus on:

Increasing funding for tobacco prevention and quit smoking programs. An investment in prevention is especially important given the ongoing youth vaping epidemic. Despite receiving $232.4 million from tobacco settlement payments and tobacco taxes, West Virginia only funds tobacco control efforts at 6.1% of the level recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The Lung Association believes the 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. 

Preserving local control of smokefree laws throughout the state. The U.S. Surgeon General has concluded there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke. Preserving comprehensive smokefree laws that eliminate smoking in all public places and workplaces, including restaurants, bars and casinos, help protect workers across the state from deadly secondhand smoke. E-cigarettes must also continue to be included in these comprehensive smokefree laws, given the harmful emissions that come from them.

Eliminating punitive youth possession, use and purchase laws and implement evidence-based policies that deter youth initiation of tobacco products. According to the 2022 National Youth Tobacco Survey, more than 2.5 million high school and middle school students use e-cigarettes, and more 85% of those kids use flavored e-cigarettes. To end the youth vaping epidemic, lawmakers must invest in evidenced-based measure and fund programs that reduce youth tobacco.  Providing non-punitive youth tobacco control plans can help schools and communities address teen tobacco issues in a more supportive way by educating about nicotine dependence and establishing health alternatives and guidance on how to kick their unhealthy tobacco product addiction. 

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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