Health
6:53 pm
Wed January 16, 2013

Pennsylvania Gets Failing Grades in Tobacco Prevention, Cessation Programs

Though Pennsylvania gets a sizeable chunk of money from tobacco settlements, it’s not spending the funds as intended, which is to fight tobacco use and to help people quit. That’s according to the National Lung Association’s State of Tobacco Control 2013 report. The annual report gives the state two “C” grades and two “F’s.”

“The two Cs are for Pennsylvania’s statewide smoke-free workplace law and also their cigarette tax level. The Fs are for funding tobacco prevention and cessation programs and policies that help smokers quit,” said Thomas Carr, National Policy Director for the Association.

Pennsylvania gets $1.4 billion in tobacco settlement payments and taxes annually, but spends roughly $14.2 million on prevention and cessation programs. Carr said the state used to spend more, but as the economy started to slump, funds were diverted way from tobacco programs. But, Carr said such programs work to bring down the number of smokers, and added Pennsylvania needs to spend more money on the effort.

The major cigarette companies spend $22 million a day marketing their products, and this is more than most state tobacco programs spend in a year, including Pennsylvania,” he said.

Pennsylvania Department of Health Spokesperson Aimee Tysarczyk said in a written statement, “while we are all experiencing budget cuts, we're doing what we can with what we have and Pennsylvania is making progress.”
In regards to the “F” grade the state received in the funding category, Tysarczyk said, “the outcome of this report is dependent upon the criteria that are used and the scoring that is involved. 43 of the 50 states received Fs in funding. Perhaps this demonstrates that the group's expectations, though notable, are unrealistic and, unfortunately, work to undermine the good work states are trying to provide in these economic times.”

Nationally, 41 states earned an F when it came to prevention programs. Still, the number of smokers is decreasing, albeit slowly. Carr said the problem is other tobacco product use is on the rise. He said the overall goal of this report is to bring the issue to the attention of lawmakers across the US.

“It’s ultimately their responsibility and we know what works to prevent tobacco use, it’s usually political will that gets in our way,” said Carr.

Pennsylvania is the only state without an excise tax on tobacco products other than cigarettes. The American Lung Association supports taxing products such as chewing tobacco and cigars, and says it could mean $100 million in revenue for the state. Smoking costs Pennsylvania $14 billion in health care costs and lost worker productivity. Nationally, it’s one of the biggest problems facing the country.

“It kills over 390,000 people every year and is the leading cause of preventable death, it causes $200 billion in health care costs and lost productivity every year. It truly is a public health crisis,” said Carr.

The federal government overall did not fare well in the 2013 report. It received an F for regulation of tobacco products and three Ds for cessation coverage, cigarette tax, and prevention. Carr said that was a surprise.

“This administration has been very good on tobacco prevention, actually one of the best ever. Unfortunately in 2012 it came to an abrupt halt. One of the things that really needs to happen in the Food and Drug Administration needs to assert oversight authority over all tobacco products that way they can do aggressive oversight over the tobacco industry and what they’re doing,” he said.  

Back in Pennsylvania, the $14.2 million set aside for tobacco prevention and cessation programs was an increase over the amount allocated in fiscal year 2012, which Carr said is a big step forward, though more needs to be done.

In 2013, the American Lung Association in Pennsylvania said it will continue to focus on reducing tobacco use and secondhand smoke through efforts to remove exemptions to the states’ indoor smoking ban and will also continue to defend Pennsylvania's current level of tobacco prevention and cessation funding.