Vermont Business Magazine The American Lung Association’s 2018 “State of Tobacco Control” shows Vermont earned mixed grades on its tobacco policies. The Lung Association suggests the state should put another $3.8 million into fighting the problem and raise the smoking age to 21. The 16th annual report grades states and the federal government on policies proven to prevent and reduce tobacco use, and finds that Vermont was unable to move the ball on tobacco policy in 2017, and that elected officials must do more to save lives and ensure all Vermont residents benefit.
“Nationwide, smoking rates have continued to decline to historically low levels, yet tobacco use remains the nation’s leading cause of preventable death and disease killing over 480,000 Americans each year,” said Jeff Seyler, Executive Vice President of the American Lung Association, Northeast Region. “Tobacco use is a serious addiction, and the fact that nearly19 percent of adults and almost a quarter of high school students in Vermont currently use tobacco highlights how much work remains to be done in our communities to prevent and reduce tobacco use.”
This year’s “State of Tobacco Control” finds Vermont’s grades show zero progress from last year and that Governor Scott and the state legislature must reprioritize tobacco control policies that will save lives:
- Funding for State Tobacco Prevention Programs – Grade D
- Strength of Smokefree Workplace Laws - Grade A
- Level of State Tobacco Taxes - Grade B
- Coverage and Access to Services to Quit Tobacco - Grade B
- Minimum Age of Sale for Tobacco Products to 21 – Grade F
The American Lung Association in Vermont is concerned that the state is heading in the wrong direction. The overall adult smoking rate in Vermont is stagnant and has even ticked up slightly while the U.S. overall rate continues to decline. While Vermont was an early national leader in the fight against Big Tobacco, it is losing ground by gradually cutting the state’ comprehensive tobacco control program budget and draining the Tobacco Trust Fund, originally intended to sustain the state’s tobacco prevention and control efforts.
Currently, Vermont earned a “D” for its Prevention and Control Funding, even though the programs budget is less than 54 percent of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended amount. By protecting or increasing funding for tobacco control programs, Vermont would have a powerful opportunity to focus efforts in communities that use tobacco at higher rates and who have been targeted by the tobacco industry. Vermont receives $106.1 million from tobacco settlement payments and tobacco taxes, and should use more of these funds to help prevent tobacco use and help smokers quit. The American Lung Association has recommended a modest increase in state funding to $3.8 million from the current $3.5 million.
The Vermont State legislature also missed a critical opportunity this year to pass a bill raising the age of sale of tobacco products to 21 from 18. Tobacco is a highly addictive product, and close to 95 percent of smokers try their first cigarette by the age of 21. More must be done to prevent and reduce youth tobacco use in Vermont, and one powerful tool is increasing the minimum age of sale for tobacco products to 21. In fact, the National Academy of Medicine (formerly the Institute of Medicine) found increasing the minimum age of sale for all tobacco products to 21 could prevent 223,000 deaths among people born between 2000 and 2019, including 50,000 fewer dying from lung cancer – the nation’s leading cancer killer.
On this front the legislature’s failure was met by local successes. The Vermont Department of Health, working with local tobacco control and prevention grantees, is addressing the smoking rate among young adults through the Vermont Tobacco-Free Colleges Initiative. Eighteen percent of Vermonters between the ages of 18 and 24 smoke. By the fall of 2019, the percent of college students covered by a tobacco-free college campus policy will increase from 34 percent to 76 percent, thanks to a resolution passed by the Vermont State College Chancellors. The resolution commits to making all five Vermont State College campuses tobacco-free by the fall of 2019.
“Vermont was a leader when it was passing clean indoor air laws and invested substantially in tobacco control and prevention, but that leadership is no longer reflected in policy and budget decisions.” said Rebecca Ryan, Senior Director, Health Education and Public Policy for the American Lung Association in Vermont. “We know how to reduce tobacco use in this country – and investments in Tobacco Prevention and Control, as well as legislation protecting our youths – are critical to our success. Vermont elected officials must act to implement proven policies, which will prevent tobacco-caused death and disease, and help keep our lungs healthy.”
The American Lung Association in Vermont calls for the following actions to be taken by itselected officials to reduce tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke:
1) Increase fiscal year 2019 funding for Vermont's comprehensive tobacco control program to $3.8 million;
2) Raise the legal age for sale of tobacco products to 21; and
3) Require landlords to disclose smoking policies in building to prospective renters.
Source: Williston, VT - January 24, 2018] – The American Lung Association “State of Tobacco Control” report