W.Va. flunked in tobacco use reduction

CHARLESTON – West Virginia failed to protect children from “Big Tobacco’s” marketing tactics by not investing in policies proven to reduce tobacco use, according to the American Lung Association’s “State of Tobacco Control 2013” report.

The Lung Association’s “State of Tobacco Control” report tracks progress on tobacco control policies at the federal and state level, assigning grades based on whether laws are protecting citizens from the toll tobacco use takes on lives and the economy, said association officials.

In the 11th annual report West Virginia received failing grades from the association across the board:

* F in funding for tobacco prevention and control programs

* F in smokefree air

* F in cigarette taxes

* F in cessation coverage

“West Virginia failed to invest adequately in the fight against tobacco use in 2012. Meanwhile, Big Tobacco was busy honing clever new tactics to lure new youth smokers,” said Deb Brown, president and CEO of the American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic.

Tobacco causes an estimated 3,821 deaths in West Virginia annually and costs the state’s economy $1.7 billion in health care costs and lost productivity, a burden the state cannot afford, the association said. Each year, 443,000 people die in the U.S. from tobacco-related illnesses and secondhand smoke exposure, the association said.

Although West Virginia receives $231 million in tobacco-related revenue annually, it invests 28 percent of what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends should be spent on tobacco prevention and cessation programs, the association said. The failure of states across the U.S. to invest in policies and programs to reduce tobacco use has resulted in 3 million new youth and young smokers in the U.S., according to the Surgeon General’s 2012 report, the report said.

The American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic said it wants West Virginia to raise taxes on tobacco products other than cigarettes to achieve tax parity. West Virginia taxes cigarettes at 55 cents per pack of 20.

The lung association says the following priorities need to be addressed to improve West Virginia’s “State of Tobacco Control” grades for 2013:

* Provide more tobacco prevention and control program funding

* Raise cigarette taxes

* Create more comprehensive cessation coverage

* Create stricter state smoking restrictions

“It’s time West Virginia removes Big Tobacco’s welcome mat,” Brown said. “Leaders in Charleston must provide smokers with the support they need to quit and adequately fund programs that help keep our kids off tobacco.”

The American Lung Association in West Virginia has evaluated regulations restricting smoking in all 55 West Virginia counties, and assigned them letter grades from A to F based on the strength of the regulation, the association said.

Twenty counties up from last year’s 18 earned “A” grades, 19 earned “B” grades, 10 earned “C” grades and the remaining six counties received F grades. An “A” grade means smoking is prohibited in almost all public places and workplaces, and an “F” grade means protections from secondhand smoke are inadequate or non-existent, the association said.

Wood County’s grade was A

Other area counties’ scores were:

* Calhoun, A

* Doddridge, A

* Gilmer, F

* Jackson, B

* Pleasants, A

* Ritchie, A

* Roane, A

* Tyler, C

* Wirt, A.