Smoke-Free Workplace Laws, Cigarette Taxes on the Rise

THURSDAY, Jan. 10 (HealthDay News) -- Anti-tobacco campaigns registered some significant gains in 2007, with more states banning smoking in public places.

But there's still too little federal and state funding for smoking-prevention and cessation programs, and many states haven't increased their cigarette taxes.

That's the conclusion of the American Lung Association's State of Tobacco Control 2007 report card, released Thursday.

"Tobacco remains the number one preventable cause of death in America," Bernadette Toomey, the lung association's president and CEO, said during a Tuesday teleconference. "Diseases related to tobacco kill more than 438,000 Americans each year. If effective policies were implemented, this dreadful toll would be greatly reduced."

Tobacco control policies work, Toomey added. "But what we need is the political will on the part of our leaders to implement these proven policies," she said.

On the federal level, Toomey called on Congress to pass the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which would give the U.S. Food and Drug Administration the power to regulate tobacco products.

The lung association's sixth annual report card graded the federal government on several key measures. They included the 39-cent federal excise tax on cigarettes; the status of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act; ongoing federal anti-smoking programs; and the need to ratify the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control -- an international tobacco control treaty.

The report card results weren't encouraging.

"The federal government's grades this year are abysmal -- one 'D' and three 'F's," Paul Billings, the association's vice president for national policy and advocacy, said during Tuesday's teleconference. The "D" was for the failure to ratify the tobacco control treaty, which was signed by President George W. Bush in 2004, but has never been sent to the Senate for approval.

On the plus side, Toomey singled out New York City for special praise. Smoking rates in New York City have continued to decline, while across the nation rates have stalled, she said. Toomey said she believes that city officials have the political will and a workable plan to reduce smoking.

To illustrate her point, Toomey noted that smoking rates among high school students in New York City dropped to 8.5 percent from 17.6 percent, and the smoking rate for teenage girls dropped to 8.6 percent from 12 percent in 2005.

Toomey also praised Maine for its high cigarette tax and smoke-free air laws and its continued funding of smoking-prevention programs. While no state got straight A's in this year's report card, Maine had three A's and a B, the best showing by any state.

Tennessee also received praise for strengthening its smoke-free air law in 2007. Tennessee is the first traditional tobacco-growing state to pass strong restrictions on smoking in public places and workplaces, Toomey said.

In addition, 21 states have passed comprehensive smoke-free air laws, Billings said. "Sadly, 18 states continue to get an 'F' in this category, leaving millions of Americans exposed to potentially lethal secondhand smoke in public places," he said.

Despite evidence that smoking-prevention programs keep teens from starting to smoke and help motivate adults to quit, only six states fund these programs at the level recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Billings said.

"Only nine states received an 'A' for funding their programs at 90 percent or more of the CDC's recommended funding level," Billings said. "Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico received an 'F' for tobacco prevention and control funding," he added.

Ten states received an "A" for laws that limit children's access to tobacco products, while 17 states continued to get "Fs," Billings said.

Billings noted that taxes on tobacco have stopped millions of Americans from smoking or prompted them to quit. Twenty-five states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have taxes of a dollar or more per pack, and nine states have taxes of two dollars or more, he said. The highest tax is in New Jersey ($2.575 a pack). "South Carolina is the worst with only a seven-cent-a-pack tax," he said.

Aggressive anti-smoking campaigns are needed, Toomey said, to blunt the effects of the tobacco industry's aggressive marketing efforts. "The tobacco companies haven't let up," she said. "The five largest cigarette companies spent $13.1 billion annually in marketing their addictive deadly product in 2005."

Bill Phelps, a spokesman for Phillip Morris USA, said his company supports many of the American Lung Association's goals.

"We encourage states to fund smoking-prevention programs," said Phelps. "We also support the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act."

However, Philip Morris USA doesn't support raising tobacco taxes, Phelps said. "We believe funding programs with a declining revenue source -- cigarette sales have been declining for many years -- we don't think that raising taxes makes sense, and we oppose large increases in excise taxes," he said.

Pete Fisher, vice president for state issues at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, agrees with the report card's findings and what needs to be done.

"The report confirms again that, while we all know what to do to reduce tobacco use, what we need is political will and political leadership to do it," he said. "The report makes it clear that political leadership at the federal level and in many states has failed to enact the measures that we know will reduce tobacco use."

Fisher also believes that Congress should pass the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. "The states should redouble their efforts to increase taxes and smoke-free laws and fully fund tobacco cessation and prevention programs," he added.

In a prepared statement, Dr. Ronald M. Davis, president of the American Medical Association, said: "The AMA is concerned that the federal government received failing grades for its tobacco control legislation and policies. It's a cruel irony that tobacco, the number one cause of preventable death, is one of the least regulated products. This report serves as a reminder that we need meaningful legislative reforms to give the FDA strong regulatory authority over tobacco products.

"While some states have made progress, it is troubling that 32 states received failing grades for tobacco prevention and control funding," he added. "By spending more on tobacco prevention and cessation programs, states have the ability to save lives and stop new smokers before they start."

More information

To learn more about the dangers of smoking and how to quit, visit the American Lung Association.

SOURCES: Jan. 8, 2008, teleconference with Bernadette Toomey, president and CEO, American Lung Association, New York City; Paul Billings, vice president for national policy and advocacy, American Lung Association, New York City; Pete Fisher, vice president, state issues, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Washington, D.C.; Bill Phelps, spokesman, Phillip Morris USA; State of Tobacco Control 2007 report card, American Lung Association, Jan. 10, 2008; American Medical Association, news release, Jan. 10, 2008