Pennsylvania Earns F’s in Lung Association ‘State of Tobacco Control’ Report

American Lung Association

HARRISBURG, PA — 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 Pennsylvania 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 Pennsylvanians have the opportunity to take action to support public health and save lives in 2021 by increasing tobacco prevention and cessation funding to the Center For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended level of $140 million; closing the loopholes in the state’s Clean Indoor Air Act and make all public places and workplaces smokefree; as well as increasing tobacco taxes and equalizing rates across all tobacco products.

The need for Pennsylvania 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, children are becoming the next generation addicted to tobacco. Youth vaping and tobacco use overall is largely driven by flavored tobacco products, and American Lung Association’s 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.

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“In Pennsylvania, our adult smoking rates are 17.3% and high school tobacco use rates are 26.7%. 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 Pennsylvania to implement the proven measures outlined in ‘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 while Pennsylvania has taken significant steps to reduce tobacco use by maintaining level-state funding for tobacco prevention and cessation programs during the 2020 budget process, elected officials should do more to save lives and ensure all Pennsylvania residents 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.

Pennsylvania’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. Pennsylvania 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 D
  5. NEW! Ending the Sale of All Flavored Tobacco Products   – Grade F

The American Lung Association encourages Pennsylvania 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 increasing funding for tobacco prevention and quit smoking programs. An investment in prevention is especially important given the ongoing youth vaping epidemic. “Despite receiving $17,011,745 from tobacco settlement payments and tobacco taxes, Pennsylvania only funds tobacco control efforts at 12.2% 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.

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During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board required that all casinos re-open as smokefree, an important step during a period that’s never been more crucial for lung health. “It’s time that the remaining exemptions in the Clean Indoor Air Act are removed to include eliminating smoking in bars, private clubs, among others, as well as a permanent law for smokefree casinos. Passing a comprehensive smokefree law that eliminates smoking, including e-cigarettes, in all public places would protect workers across the state from deadly secondhand smoke. 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.

Another key area of focus for the state is to pass a law ending the sale of all flavored tobacco products.  In 2019, about 8,000 kids began vaping every day – typically with flavored e-cigarettes – setting them up for a lifetime of addiction to nicotine. Ending the sale of flavored tobacco products, including menthol, will not only help end youth vaping, but will also help address the disproportionate impact of tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke on Black and Brown communities. Menthol cigarettes remain a key vector for tobacco-related death and disease in Black communities, with 82% of Black Americans who smoke using them.

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“Kids follow the flavors and ending the sale of all flavored tobacco products in Pennsylvania is key to ending the youth e-cigarette epidemic and youth tobacco use overall. We call on legislators in Harrisburg to prohibit the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including menthol across the commonwealth,” 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 Pennsylvania 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 lawmakers in Pennsylvania to act and take this opportunity to achieve lasting reductions in tobacco-related death and disease,” said Pisciottano.

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