U.S. Gets Failing Grades on Tobacco Control

Lung association faults both White House, Congress

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HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Jan. 6, 2005 (HealthDayNews) -- The American Lung Association has graded states' efforts to curb tobacco use for years, but this year it moved on to the U.S. government -- and promptly flunked it.

The ALA's annual report card, released Thursday, includes the first-ever ratings for Congress and the White House on their tobacco control actions in 2004.

"There's been progress in tax increases and clean indoor air laws state-by-state gradually over the last couple of years," said John L. Kirkwood, president and CEO of the ALA. "There's been no progress at the federal level."

The most miserable failing, Kirkwood said, was the U.S. House of Representatives' blockage of legislation that would have given the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority to regulate tobacco products, including marketing of such products as Camel Kauai Kolada and Kool Mix Mocha Taboo to youth.

"If you did have FDA legislation, then cigarette products would be subject to the same rules and regulations that we have with drugs," Kirkwood said. "You couldn't make claims, for example, that lighter cigarettes were less hazardous."

The federal government also received a failing or nearly failing grade in three other areas:

  • Smoking cessation policies -- Congress did not implement and fund the National Action Plan for Tobacco Cessation to assist people trying to quit (Grade: F).
  • Cigarette taxes -- Congress failed to raise the 39-cent-per-pack excise tax by $2, money that would have funded smoking cessation programs (Grade: F).
  • Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Treaty -- President Bush signed the treaty, which sets standards to control tobacco use, but has not sent it to the Senate for ratification. Forty countries have already ratified this treaty (Grade: D).

"Nationally, we have not stepped up to the plate," Kirkwood said. "Where the hell is the government on this? They should be taking a leadership role."

"The tragedy of the failure of the federal government to act is that we have the tools to dramatically reduce the number of Americans who die from tobacco each year," said Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. "We know that increased tobacco taxes, public education, and regulation of the tobacco industry could save literally hundreds of thousands of live each year."

And Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), who has fought for harsher measures against tobacco companies, added, in a prepared statement, "Today's report by the American Lung Association provides a stark reminder of the federal government's failure to reduce youth smoking, regulate tobacco products, or generate funds for tobacco cessation programs. The federal government deserves this failing grade."

The report did find that state and local governments have done a better job, although that record remains mixed.

Six states (California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts and New York) now ban smoking in all workplaces, including bars and restaurants. Thirty-three states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, however, received an F for smoke-free air.

In 2004, several cities, including Lawrence, Kan., Columbus, Ohio, Lincoln, Neb., and Minneapolis banned smoking in workplaces. A study published last year found that the number of heart attacks reported in Helena, Mont., fell by 40 percent while a six-month comprehensive smoke-free air law was in effect.

Three states (Michigan, New Jersey and Rhode Island) now have cigarette taxes at or above $2 per pack. Seventeen states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico now have taxes at or above $1 per pack.

Kentucky replaced Virginia as having the lowest cigarette tax in the country (3 cents per pack). Virginia's tax is now 20 cents due to its first increase since the cigarette tax was established in 1960. Eleven states raised their cigarette taxes in 2004, increasing the average state cigarette tax by 12 cents, to 84 cents per pack. Twelve states failed in this category.

One troubling trend is the cuts in tobacco prevention programs, including model programs in Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts and Minnesota. In all, 36 states plus the District of Columbia received an F here.

Seven states received an A for limiting youth access to tobacco; 23 states received an F.

"The federal government and the states should be working in concert," Kirkwood said. "At the time the Surgeon General's report came out in 1964, about 46 percent of the public smoked. Now we're down to around 22 percent. That's cut in half. That's indicative of where the trend is going on this."

More information

Read more about tobacco control from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

SOURCES: John L. Kirkwood, president and CEO, American Lung Association, New York City; Matthew L. Myers, president, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Washington, D.C.; Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), prepared statement; Jan. 6, 2005, 2004 State of Tobacco Control report, American Lung Association

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