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Tobacco: State failing to curb smoking

West Virginia is failing its residents when it comes to stemming the use of tobacco and tobacco products, according to the American Lung Association. Last week, the group released its “State of Tobacco Control” report, in which the Mountain State received very poor marks.

Our state received an F in tobacco prevention and cessation funding; a D in smokefree air; an F on tobacco taxes; an F on access to cessation services and an F on making 21 the legal age for purchasing tobacco products (though the federal government has made that change since the report was compiled).

Meanwhile, according to the ALA, tobacco-product use remains the leading cause of preventable disease and death in West Virginia. The group reports the adult tobacco use rate here is an astounding 35 percent; the high school student use rate is more than 26 percent, and, sadly, the middle school tobacco use rate is 4.5 percent. E-cigarettes and vaping have a lot to do with those last two figures.

As Delegate Matthew Rohrbach, R-Cabell, pointed out before the start of the legislative session, West Virginia is fighting a substance abuse crisis that involves more than illegal and prescription drug abuse. It involves tobacco products and, yes, even alcohol. Rohrbach, is chairman of the House Select Committee on Prevention and Treatment of Substance Abuse and a doctor, and had planned at the time to introduce some measures that might begin to tackle those other pieces of the puzzle — the other public health crises we don’t talk about much.

But even if lawmakers feel less comfortable taking on tobacco — plenty of them smoke — it is a problem they cannot ignore. According to the ALA, the economic cost of smoking alone in our state (they are not yet accounting for vaping and the use of other tobacco products) has been a little more than $1 billion. Imagine the improvement to the health and wellbeing of our residents AND our economy if there were better measures in place to help stop this centuries old substance abuse health crisis.

If they want that, West Virginia lawmakers can help make it happen.

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