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

West Virginia among states with worst grades, receiving four “F’s” and a “D.” Lung Association calls on state officials to pass tobacco control laws 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 West Virginia earned failing 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 West Virginia has the opportunity to take action and prioritize increased tobacco program funding, preserve local control of smokefree air laws throughout the state and increase tobacco taxes in order to support public health and save lives in 2020. The need for West 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 West Virginia, our adult smoking rates are 23.8% and high school tobacco use rates are 40.6%. 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 West Virginia to implement the proven measures outlined in the ‘State of Tobacco Control’  to prevent and reduce tobacco use,” said American Lung Association Director of Advocacy Molly Pisciottano.

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 though West Virginia created a taskforce to oversee tobacco prevention programs among youth and young adults, elected officials should do much more to save lives and ensure all West 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.

West 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. West Virginia received the following 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
  • NEW! Ending the Sale of All Flavored Tobacco Products   - Grade F

The American Lung Association encourages West 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 tobacco prevention and control program funding, smokefree air laws and tobacco taxes:

Increase funding for tobacco prevention and quit smoking programs. An investment in prevention is especially important given the ongoing youth vaping epidemic. “Despite receiving $1,649,734 from tobacco settlement payments and tobacco taxes, West Virginia only funds tobacco control efforts at 6% of the level recommended by the CDC. The Lung Association believes the funds should be used to support the health of our communities, and to prevent tobacco use and help smokers quit, and not switch to e-cigarettes. These programs are also critical for helping to end tobacco-related health disparities” said Pisciottano.

Preserve Local Control of Smokefree Air Laws. The U.S. Surgeon General has concluded there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke. We urge West Virginia legislators to preserve local control of smokefree laws to ensure that localities have the authority to protect public health and have the ability to pass their own comprehensive smokefree air laws in all public places and workplaces, including restaurants, bars and casinos, which 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 Pisciottano.

Increase tobacco taxes. 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, including e-cigarettes. Multiple studies have shown that every 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes reduces consumption by about four percent among adults and about seven percent among youth. “To protect kids from a lifetime of nicotine addiction, the Lung Association in West Virginia encourages the state to increase cigarette taxes and equalize the tax on other tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and cigars with its cigarette tax,” said Pisciottano.
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 (2021 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 West Virginian 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 West Virginia lawmakers to act and take this opportunity to achieve lasting reductions in tobacco-related death and disease,” said Pisciottano.

West Virginia Local Smokefree Regulation Grades:

As a complement to the American Lung Association’s “State of Tobacco Control” 2021 report, the Lung Association in West Virginia has evaluated regulations restricting smoking in all 55 West Virginia counties, and assigned them letter grades from A to F based on the strength of the regulation. The counties and grades are displayed in the chart below.

West Virginia’s “D” grade for Smokefree Air in the American Lung Association’s 2021 “State of Tobacco Control” report is due to the large percentage of West Virginia’s population covered by local smokefree regulations. 

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 or cell at 302-275-2277.

For more information, contact:

Valerie Gleason
[email protected]

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