The 16th annual report graded states and the federal government on policies proven to prevent and reduce tobacco use, and found while Tennessee has taken significant steps to reduce tobacco use, elected officials must do more to save lives and ensure all Tennessee residents benefit.
“Nationwide, smoking rates have continued to decline to historically low levels, yet tobacco use remains the nation’s leading cause of preventable death and disease killing over 480,000 Americans each year,” said Heather Wehrheim, American Lung Association in Tennessee’s director of advocacy. “Tobacco use is a serious addiction, and the fact that 26.8 percent of Tennessee residents are current smokers highlights how much work remains to be done in our communities to prevent and reduce tobacco use.”
This year’s “State of Tobacco Control” found Tennessee with mixed grades showing that progress can be made, although more still must be done by Gov. Bill Haslam and the state legislature to enact proven policies that will reduce tobacco use and secondhand smoke and save lives:
• funding for state tobacco prevention programs – grade F.
• strength of smokefree workplace laws - grade C.
• level of state tobacco taxes - grade F.
• coverage and access to services to quit tobacco - grade F.
• minimum age of sale for tobacco products to 21 – grade F.
The American Lung Association Tennessee called on Tennessee policymakers to act on repealing preemption related to smoke free public places and make sure all cessation treatments are covered under Medicaid and private insurance without barriers.
The report also detailed as a result of decades of targeted marketing by the tobacco industry, too many Americans haven’t seen the benefits of reduced smoking rates, and Tennessee and the federal government could do more to ensure all Americans benefit from tobacco control efforts.
According to the American Lung Association, there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke and, if Tennessee would pass a comprehensive smoke-free law that eliminates smoking in all public places and workplaces, workers across the state would benefit. This is especially critical for those who work in the service and manufacturing sectors who are often exposed to secondhand smoke daily. A person should not have to be exposed to the dangers of secondhand smoke to put food on the table.
If Tennessee would increase funding for tobacco control programs, they would have a powerful opportunity to target these programs to communities that still use tobacco at higher rates and who have been targeted by the tobacco industry. Tennessee receives $428,700,000 from tobacco settlement payments and tobacco taxes, and should use more of these funds to help prevent tobacco use and help smokers quit.
Nearly seven out of 10 smokers want to quit, but tobacco use is a serious addiction, and quitting can be difficult. Evidence suggests the number of people quitting smoking increased when coverage for tobacco treatments provides access to all seven FDA-approved tobacco cessation medications and all three forms of counseling without barriers, such as copays and prior authorization. Tennessee lawmakers have a powerful opportunity to help smokers quit and reduce disparities in tobacco use by covering all quit smoking treatments in its Medicaid program. Medicaid enrollees smoke at a rate almost three times as high as those with private insurance.
Increasing tobacco taxes is one of the most effective ways to reduce tobacco use, not only among low-income individuals but also for youth. To protect kids from a lifetime of nicotine addiction, the Lung Association in Tennessee encouraged Tennessee lawmakers to increase tobacco taxes by $1 per pack. The step is critical to Tennessee as current tobacco use among youth is 31.9 percent.
Tobacco is a highly addictive product, and close to 95 percent of smokers try their first cigarette by the age of 21. More must be done to prevent and reduce youth tobacco use in Tennessee, and one powerful tool is increasing the minimum age of sale for tobacco products to 21. In fact, the National Academy of Medicine found increasing the minimum age of sale for all tobacco products to 21 could prevent 223,000 deaths among people born between 2000 and 2019, including 50,000 fewer dying from lung cancer – the nation’s leading cancer killer.
“We know how to reduce tobacco use in this country. ‘State of Tobacco Control’ looks at proven methods to save lives and protect the health of all Americans,” said Wehrheim. “Tennessee elected officials must act to implement these proven policies, which will prevent tobacco-caused death and disease, and help keep our lungs healthy.”