Tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the United States and in Tennessee. To address this enormous toll, the American Lung Association calls for the following actions to be taken by Tennessee's elected officials:
1. Restore state funding for the Tennessee Tobacco Program to $2 million and designate funding as a recurring line item in the annual budget;
2. Raise the tobacco tax by $1.50 and equalize the tax for all tobacco products including e-cigarettes; and
3. Close loopholes in the statewide law restricting smoking.

During the 2021 legislative session, the Lung Association and its health advocate partners supported Tobacco 21 legislation that included strengthened enforcement provisions, licensing for tobacco retailers, and repeal of penalties for underage purchase, use and possession of tobacco products. Ultimately, at the behest of Governor Bill Lee, the legislature passed a pared down bill that only raised the legal sales age for tobacco products to 21 years old, effective January 1, 2021.

A push to increase funding for the state tobacco prevention and cessation program to $4 million and to establish it as a recurring line item in the annual budget gained significant momentum early in 2020. Later however, amid predictions of dramatic declines in revenue associated with COVID-19 and the urgent need to fund a state response to the pandemic, state tobacco control funds were redirected. The Lung Association feels re-directing all tobacco control funding was shortsighted given smoking is a risk factor for more severe COVID-19. Restoring funding in 2021 will be a top priority.

While smoking is currently prohibited statewide in places such as schools, retail stores, and government workplaces, the law has several exceptions that limit its effectiveness. As examples, smoking is allowed in restaurants and bars that do not admit persons under 21, and the law does not include e-cigarettes. The Lung Association and our health advocate partners will continue to educate lawmakers on the importance of closing these loopholes.

A 2019 Tennessee Tobacco and Vape Policy Poll found that smokefree workplaces are strongly supported by voters, with 78% in favor. Support is well over 70% across party lines. Even a majority of smokers back smokefree workplace legislation, with 56% in favor. The poll also found that eight in ten voters favor dedicating the state's tobacco revenue funds to tobacco prevention programs.

Finally, the Administration's first-in-the-nation waiver to block grant the state's Medicaid program, TennCare, was approved by the federal government on January 8, 2021. Strongly opposed by the Lung Association, block grants instead of matching dollars, mean federal government contributions to fund the state program are limited. This could, among other effects, limit prescription drug coverage and access to tobacco cessation medications, undermining smokers' quit attempts.

The American Lung Association in Tennessee will continue working with our many health coalition partners and others in 2021 to educate policymakers, business leaders and media on the importance of the Lung Association's goals to reduce all tobacco use, including e-cigarettes, and to protect public health.
  • Tennessee Facts
  • Economic Cost Due to Smoking: $2,672,824,085

  • Adult Smoking Rate: 19.9%

  • High School Smoking Rate: 7.1%

  • High School Tobacco Use Rate: 27.9%

  • Middle School Smoking Rate: N/A

  • Smoking Attributable Deaths per Year: 11,380

Adult smoking data come from CDC's 2019 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. High school smoking and tobacco use rates are taken from the 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System. A current middle school smoking rate is not available for this state.

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