Minnesota, Wisconsin get failing grades on fighting tobacco useAn American Lung Association report is critical of the two states' efforts to curb tobacco use.
By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune
Both Minnesota and Wisconsin should do much more to combat tobacco use, a report being released today contends.
“Yes, we have come a long way since 1964, but we have also paid a terrible price,” Penny Gottier Fena, executive director of the American Lung Association in Minnesota, said in a news release.
Reflecting the nonprofit’s view that states still have a long way to go is the letter grades it gave them in its 12th annual “State of Tobacco Control” report.
Each state got an “A” for smoke-free air and a “B” for cigarette taxes but an “F” for tobacco prevention and control program funding, and another “F” for cessation coverage (i.e., helping smokers quit).
The American Lung Association isn’t grading on a curve. Forty states plus the District of Columbia got an “F” in the area of funding programs. Not a single state got an “A” for cessation coverage.
What the group considers to be a national failure is reflected in grim mortality figures, officials say.
“Despite strides in reducing smoking rates in America by half in the last 50 years, tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death and illness in the U.S.,” said Linda Witucki, executive director of the American Lung Association in Wisconsin.
This year’s report acknowledges the U.S. Surgeon General’s landmark report on tobacco in 1964 that linked cigarette smoking with lung cancer. A new Surgeon General’s report issued last week said that, if current tobacco-use rates continue, 5.6 million Americans 18 and younger will die prematurely because of smoking-related diseases.
Both states’ report cards were identical to last year’s, except for Minnesota’s “B” grade for cigarette taxes, which increased from a “C.” That’s because of the $1.60 per pack increase in the cigarette tax — to $2.83 — that took effect July 1. Massachusetts was the only other state to raise its cigarette tax in 2013, the lung association said.
In Wisconsin, the high school smoking rate is at an all-time low of 13.1 percent, according to the most recent Youth Tobacco Survey by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. But the lung association noted that adult smoking remains steady at 20 percent, compared with the national level of 18 percent.
Dona Wininsky, director of public policy and communication for the lung association in Wisconsin, blamed that partly on reduced funding for efforts to prevent smoking and helping those who want to quit.
“I think we would be happy with even the level (of funding) we had a few years ago,” Wininsky said. “The program has been cut and cut and cut.”
The Wisconsin group’s top priority this year is for all tobacco products to be taxed at the same level as cigarettes, Wininsky said. She’s particularly concerned about little cigars, which she said are marketed like candy.
“Right now cigarettes are expensive, but little cigars are very inexpensive,” she said.
A pack of little cigars can be purchased for as low as $1 in Wisconsin, compared with $6 to $8 for a pack of cigarettes, anti-smoking groups note.
Wininsky said the lung association supports a bill by state Rep. Garey Bies, R-Sister City. The “Backpack Tobacco Act” would not only equalize the tax between little cigars and cigarettes, but require that little cigars be kept behind the counter, as cigarettes are.