The American Lung Association today issued its annual report, State of Tobacco Control, assigning grades to the states and the District of Columbia based on tobacco control measures taken by local legislators in 2008. Criteria for good marks include banning smoking in workplaces and public places, levying cigarette taxes, and funding prevention campaigns. Because tobacco use is a major contributor to death and disease in an era when chronic disease and healthcare costs are growing at an alarming rate, "The thing to do is avoid disease altogether," says Chuck Connor, president and CEO of the ALA. Shunning tobacco products is one of the easiest and most economical ways to do that.
Individuals need more than willpower. The ALA argues that one's environment—and how easy it is to light up—has a great impact on the percentage of a population that uses tobacco products. And secondhand smoke affects the health of nonsmokers, too. That is why the ALA issued the Smokefree Air Challenge in January 2006 to encourage passage of laws that ban cigarette smoking in places including bars, restaurants, schools, private workplaces, and casinos by the end of 2010. But in 2008, only two states met the challenge: Iowa and Nebraska. Now, a total of 23 states and D.C. have a comprehensive array of laws to keep the air in those states' smoke free.
Hitting smokers where it really hurts—in the pocketbook—is also a critical piece of tobacco control, argues the ALA. "A 10 percent increase in the total price of a pack brings adult consumption down by about 4 percent and teen consumption down by about 7 percent," says Paul Billings, vice president, National Policy and Advocacy for the ALA. New York State has the highest tax at $2.75 per pack, while South Carolina has the lowest, at $0.07 per pack.
The momentum in state legislatures to ban lighting up will continue to pick up speed, predicts Billings: "The days of smoking are numbered and policymakers need to get on the right side of history." The ALA hopes to see federal legislation passed this year that would bring regulation of tobacco products under the oversight of the Food and Drug Administration.
Not so fast, say cigarette makers. The companies, in an effort to keep nicotine users hooked, are now promoting smokeless tobacco products that deliver a hit of the drug that makes cigarettes addictive, noted the ALA in this year's report.