State falters in fight against tobacco

Last updated: February 15. 2014 10:40PM - 4107 Views
By - smocarsky@civitasmedia.com

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The American Lung Association and its partners have called for action by all levels of government to achieve three bold goals:

• Reduce smoking rates, currently at about 18 percent, to less than 10 percent within 10 years;

• Protect all Americans from secondhand smoke within five years; and

• Ultimately eliminate the death and disease caused by tobacco use.


Learn more at www.stateoftobaccocontrol.org.

Pennsylvania earned some lousy grades in the American Lung Association’s annual tobacco control report.

The 2014 State of Tobacco Control report assigns letter grades ranging from A through F to the federal and state governments showing how well tobacco-control laws are protecting citizens from the toll tobacco use takes on lives and the economy.

Pennsylvania scored Fs when it comes to funding tobacco prevention and control, as well as requiring smoking-cessation coverage in private health insurance policies. The state received Cs in the smoke-free air and cigarette-tax categories.

The grades should come as no big shock, given that The Daily Beast news website ranked the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Metropolitan Area second-worst in the nation for people who smoke cigarettes, as The Times Leader reported in 2011.

“The 2014 Surgeon General’s Report provides irrefutable evidence that elected officials hold the key to ending death and disease caused by tobacco use,” said Deborah Brown, president and CEO of the American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic.

“‘State of Tobacco Control 2014’ provides the blueprint to our nation’s policymakers on how they can save millions of lives from lung cancer, COPD and other tobacco-caused death and disease,” Brown said.

Taxes vs. programs

Pennsylvania collected $1.1 billion in revenue from cigarette taxes in 2012-13 but allocated only $13.9 million to efforts to reduce tobacco-caused death and disease. That’s less than 2 cents for every dollar in tobacco revenue, and a far cry from the $155.5 million the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that the state spend.

The state allocated $14.2 million for tobacco-use reduction in 2013-14, but that number likely will be more than cut in half because of an arbitration issue that began in 2003.

Last September, an arbitration committee ruled Pennsylvania had failed to meet its burden of proof in showing diligent enforcement in 2003 related to the Master Settlement Agreement with the tobacco industry. The consequence is that the April 2014 MSA payment to Pennsylvania will be reduced by $196.9 million.

One result is that the Tobacco Prevention and Control Program, administered by the Department of Health, was reduced to about $7 million, which the Lung Association contends will make it impossible to provide a comprehensive program in Pennsylvania.

Community-based cessation, school-based prevention, and community awareness will cease immediately in many areas of the state. Only the PA Free Quitline and limited-cessation programs will remain to help smokers quit, according to the American Lung Association.

Easy on tobacco

Brown said state legislators could take a number of steps to improve Pennsylvania’s grades in tobacco control.

She notes Pennsylvania is the only state in the country that does not tax tobacco products other than cigarettes, including smokeless tobacco (chewing tobacco) and cigars. (Florida does not tax cigars.)

Brown said taxing those forms of tobacco and raising the cigarette tax would provide additional revenue to fund smoking prevention and cessation programs, and would help deter use of those forms of tobacco.

Brown said the most recent National Youth Tobacco Survey shows the consequences of states failing to equalize tobacco tax rates: The percentage of high school students who smoke cigars and use smokeless tobacco has remained unchanged in recent years.

Most troubling, she says, is that high school boys now smoke cigars at rates almost equal to cigarettes (15.7 percent report smoking cigars) and 12.9 percent of high school boys use smokeless tobacco.

These new data highlight the urgent need for states to tax all tobacco products at similar rates, which would also increase revenue that should be used to fund comprehensive tobacco-use prevention programs.

No escape outdoors

Brown said Pennsylvania’s Clean Indoor Air Act of 2008, which prohibits smoking in public places, is riddled with exemptions. Those exemptions are for private clubs, cigar bars, taverns where food sales are less than 20 percent of overall sales or that have a smoking area separate from a food area, and 50 percent of a casino’s floor space.

“There are still people who are not protected from second-hand smoke and have to breathe in toxic pollutants,” Brown said.

Brown notes state Senate Bill 80, sponsored by Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, R-Montgomery County, and House Bill 1485, sponsored by state Rep. Mario Scavello, R-Monroe County, would remove most or all exemptions, respectively, from the Clean Indoor Air Act.

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