Health
10:01 am
Thu January 19, 2012

Group Flunks Pennsylvania on Tobacco Policy

In a "report card" released Thursday, the American Lung Association gave Pennsylvania poor grades for its policies regarding tobacco use and taxation.

Deb Brown, President of the American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic, said the Commonwealth is "in the middle to the end of the pack" of the 50 states and Washington D.C., in the eyes of the ALA.

Pennsylvania garnered middling grades in the "Smoke-Free Air" and "Cigarette Tax" categories, but received failing marks for its anti-smoking programs and insurance policies. The report said the state "must work harder to prevent disease and death caused by tobacco."

No state got a perfect score, and only a handful received passing grades in all four categories.

Anti-Smoking Programs and Taxation

Brown said Pennsylvania should increase funding for its smoking cessation and prevention programs. She said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend the state spend $155.5 million per year to that end, but it currently allocates less than a tenth of that figure at $13.9 million.

"We know that state budgets are stressed and states are spending less, but we also know that if we don't continue preventing young people from starting and helping smokers quit, that in the long run we're going to be paying more in health care costs," said Brown.

In addition, Brown said the state should start taxing non-cigarette forms of tobacco, like cigars, pipe tobacco, "Snu's," and new products called "dissolvables."

"We know that when products are taxed, young people are deterred from using those products," said Brown. "If we can prevent young people from ever starting, we don't have to worry about helping them quit."

Exemptions to the Clean Indoor Air Act

Brown also criticized the thousands of exemptions Pennsylvania allows to its Clean Indoor Air Act, which generally prohibits smoking in buildings that are open to the public. She said smoking is legal in thousands of private clubs across Pennsylvania, and many more bars and restaurants have applied for exemptions on top of that.

"For exemptions that people have to apply for through an application, there are about 2,800-2,900 exemptions," said Brown. "So, what happens is, we have this patchwork effect going on throughout the state, and people don't know where smoking is permitted and where it is not permitted."

According to the ALA, the adult smoking rate in Pennsylvania is 18.4 percent and the high school smoking rate is 18.6 percent.

"Over 20,000 deaths in the state are attributable to smoking and it costs $9.4 billion to the citizens of Pennsylvania in healthcare costs and lost productivity," stated the report.