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Antismoking Report Card: Maine on Top

American Lung Association Also Praises New York City's Antismoking Efforts
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Jan. 10, 2008 -- Maine gets the nation's best grades on a national report card of states' antismoking efforts released by the American Lung Association.

The state earned high marks for enacting a workplace smoking ban similar to other bans taking hold in many states across the country. Maine also has among the nation's highest cigarette excise taxes at $2 per pack. It is also the first state to prohibit the sale of certain types of flavored cigarettes and cigars.

American Lung Association officials also had praise for New York City, which has passed a series of antismoking measures, including a workplace ban, high tobacco taxes, and public quit-smoking programs.

"They have a strong political will and they also have a smart game plan," says American Lung Association President Bernadette Toomey.

Toomey says high school smoking rates dropped from 18% in 2001 to 9% today, a trend she attributed to high cigarette taxes and tough antismoking laws.

A report last year by the Institute of Medicine concluded that up to 4% fewer adults and 7% fewer kids start smoking for every 10% increase in tobacco prices.

"These percentages translate to lives and to dollars saved," Toomey says.

Tobacco Tax Varies by State

The national average state tobacco tax is $1.11 per pack, while the federal government tacks on an additional $0.63. New Jersey has the highest excise tax in the nation at $2.575 per pack; South Carolina, a major tobacco-producing state, charges only 7 cents per pack, the nation's lowest.

Twenty-five states charge $1 or more in taxes for each pack of cigarettes, according to the report. Twenty-one states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, have enacted workplace smoking bans designed to curb use and guard employees from secondhand smoke.

South Carolina and several other states, including North Carolina, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, and Virginia, all got straight "F's" in the report for low taxes, no workplace bans, and for failing to spend adequate state funds on stop-smoking programs.

U.S. smoking rates fell steadily over the last two decades but have stalled in recent years, according to data from the CDC. About one-fifth of U.S. adults still smoke.

And smoking is still America's No. 1 preventable cause of death, killing an estimated 438,000 people per year by promoting heart disease, lung disease, and many cancers.

Congressional Debate on Tobacco

The report comes as Congress continues to debate several tobacco-related measures. A stalled bill expanding children's health insurance programs pays the $35 billion price tag by increasing federal tobacco taxes by 39 cents to $1.

Both the House and Senate are considering a bipartisan bill giving the FDA new power to regulate the manufacturing, marketing, and sale of tobacco.

The bill passed a Senate committee last year but has not yet reached the Senate floor. The House has taken no action on its bill, despite having more than 210 co-sponsors from both parties. Similar bills have been floating around Congress since the 1990s.

"The federal government's grades this year are abysmal," says Paul Billings, the American Lung Association's chief lobbyist.

Even if Congress does give the FDA more power to control tobacco, it is unclear whether President Bush would sign the bill, says Joel Spivak, a spokesman for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. President Bush twice vetoed the children's health insurance bill, largely because of the tobacco tax increase.

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