American Lung Association: R.I. needs to do more to control tobacco

THE AMERICAN LUNG ASSOCIATION gave Rhode Island two 'F' grades regarding tobacco control in its annual 'State of Tobacco Control' report, released Wednesday. / PBN FILE PHOTO/MICHAEL SALERNO

PROVIDENCE – Even though Rhode Island has taken a step to curtail the sales of e-cigarettes in the state in 2019, the American Lung Association strongly feels the Ocean State needs to do a lot more on tobacco control this year.

The association released Wednesday its annual State of Tobacco Control report, which grades polices by state and federal government on reducing tobacco use. The report finds that Rhode Island had “limited progress” on its efforts to reduce and prevent all tobacco use, including e-cigarettes, according to a media release.

The association gave the Ocean State a grade of “F” in two categories – tobacco prevention and cessation funding, and Tobacco 21.

The report noted that Rhode Island “failed to move forward” with legislation to increase the state’s minimum smoking age from 18 to 21 “despite broad support,” the association said, which counteracts U.S. Congress’ late 2019 passage of the “Tobacco 21” initiative into federal law. The association calls on lawmakers to enforce the minimum age of 21 for sales of tobacco products.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the state spends $12.8 million on tobacco-control efforts, however the state only spends 16%, or a little more than $2 million, on those efforts, hence the failing grade from the association. This despite Rhode Island receiving $196.9 million in “tobacco settlement payments and tobacco taxes” and the economic cost due to smoking being $639.6 million, the association said.

“The American Lung Association believes the funds should be used to support the health of our communities, and prevent tobacco use and help smokers quit tobacco for go,” said Jennifer Wall, American Lung Association’s director for advocacy in Rhode Island, in a statement.

The report applauds Gov. Gina M. Raimondo’s action to help implement a 120-day ban on sales of e-cigarettes in October as a means to address youth tobacco use in the state. Massachusetts, though, in November took a bigger step by permanently banning all flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes, in the Bay State – becoming the first state in the U.S. to do so. The association said Rhode Island should “follow Massachusetts’ lead” and pass “comprehensive laws eliminating all flavored tobacco products” this year.

Rhode Island also received in the report an “A” grade for its strength of smoke-free workplace laws, a “B” grade for its level of state tobacco taxes – charging $4.25 in taxes per pack of 20 – but a “C” grade in coverage and access to services to quit tobacco.

“State of Tobacco Control 2020 provides an important roadmap on how states like Rhode Island 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. Now is the time for lawmakers in Rhode Island to end their failure to act and take this opportunity to achieve lasting reductions in tobacco-related death and disease,” Wall said.

 James Bessette is the PBN special projects editor, and also covers the nonprofit and education sectors. You may reach him at Bessette@PBN.com.

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