Jan. 16, 2013 -- For its efforts to lessen smoking in the U.S. last year, the Obama administration is getting three D's and an F on the federal report card from the American Lung Association (ALA).
In its annual "State of Tobacco Control" progress report, released today, the ALA cited a "missed opportunity" to regulate and tax a new generation of tobacco products in the effort to keep young people from smoking.
Candy-Flavored Cigars Hook Kids
A big concern is the spread of cheap, fruit- and candy-flavored cigars, which ALA Vice President for National Advocacy Erika Sward called a "gateway product" aimed at kids and teens.
They come in flavors like strawberry, peach, and even chocolate, and because they are not regulated or taxed like other tobacco products, they are much cheaper than cigarettes, she says.
“Because the FDA has not asserted its jurisdiction over cigars the way it has over cigarettes and smokeless tobacco, cigars are becoming a major public health problem for both adults and kids,” she says.
40+ States Get F's for Tobacco Control
State lawmakers also received low marks for 2012 for their tobacco control efforts, specifically for their failure to spend money from tobacco taxes and the landmark tobacco settlement on programs proven to lessen tobacco use.
More than 40 states received a failing grade for not investing even half of what is recommended by the CDC in tobacco prevention programs.
Only two states, Alaska and North Dakota, earned A's for their tobacco control efforts.
Of the close to $26 billion collected from these funding sources last year, states spent just $462 million on these programs, according to the ALA. That is about one-eighth of what the CDC recommends.
Four states -- New Hampshire, North Carolina, New Jersey, and Ohio -- spent none of the collected tobacco money on anti-smoking programs.
As states failed to fund these programs, the tobacco industry continued to spend billions to market its products and lobby lawmakers, the report notes.
$46 Million Spent to Defeat Cigarette Tax
In California alone, according to the report, the tobacco industry spent $46 million fighting against a 2012 ballot initiative that would have raised taxes on cigarettes by $1 a pack to fund cancer research and anti-smoking programs. The initiative was narrowly defeated.
“We are faced with a deep-pocketed, ever-evolving tobacco industry that’s determined to maintain its market share at the expense of our kids and current smokers,” said ALA Senior Vice President for Advocacy and Education Paul G. Billings in a new release.
“State and federal policymakers must battle a changing Big Tobacco and step up to fund programs and enact policies proven to reduce tobacco use.”
Health Care Law Offers Opportunity
But it was what the ALA perceives as the federal government’s failure to take meaningful steps forward in 2012 on tobacco control that is the major focus of the report.
Sward says the lack of progress was especially disappointing, given that the Obama administration has historically been aggressive in its efforts to control tobacco use.
“This administration has done more to move the ball forward with regard to tobacco control than any other,” she says. “The first three years of the Obama administration saw incredible forward progress, and we are very hopeful that we will again see progress in 2013.”
Specifically, she says, the ALA is hopeful that 2013 will bring sizeable regulation over all tobacco products, including any new products the tobacco industry comes up with.
And as states hammer out the specifics of their insurance exchanges under the new national health care law, the ALA is calling on the Obama administration to require insurance companies to offer comprehensive quit-smoking benefits, which include seven different medications and three forms of counseling.
“We know that these treatments work, but one size doesn’t fit all,” Sward says.
Federal Officials Respond
In response to the report, the FDA issued a statement highlighting the steps the Obama administration has made to stop smoking in the U.S.
“This Administration has initiated an unprecedented array of actions to reduce tobacco use and stop people from taking up smoking, particularly among youth,” the statement reads.
“These include FDA actions, such as implementing historic tobacco regulation legislation and robust enforcement of marketing, sale, and distribution laws with attention to age and ID verification. Other [actions] include releasing the first-ever national strategic plan for tobacco control; significant investments in state and local tobacco control initiatives; expanding coverage of tobacco cessation counseling; and creating the Tobacco-Free College Campus initiative.”
Later this year, the FDA also plans to launch a multi-year, multimedia education campaign aimed at stopping tobacco use among teens and young adults.