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.

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