RALEIGH– Tobacco use remains the nation’s leading cause of preventable death and disease, taking an estimated 480,000 lives every year. This year’s State of Tobacco Control report from the American Lung Association finds North Carolina earned failing grades on its efforts to reduce and prevent tobacco use. The American Lung Association urges North Carolina officials to increase funding for tobacco prevention and cessation programs and QuitlineNC.

The need for North Carolina to act to protect youth from tobacco is more pressing than ever. National youth e-cigarette use is reaching epidemic levels due to a 78 percent increase in high school e-cigarette use from 2017 to 2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey. This equals one million additional kids beginning to use e-cigarettes, placing their developing bodies and lungs at risk from the chemicals in e-cigarettes as well as a lifetime of addiction to a deadly product. This has caused the U.S. Surgeon General to declare e-cigarette use among young people an epidemic in an Advisory issued in December 2018.

“In North Carolina, our smoking rates remain at 17.2 percent. Tobacco use is a serious addiction and we need to invest in the proven strategies to prevent and reduce tobacco use outlined in State of Tobacco Control,” said American Lung Association Senior Director of Advocacy June Deen. “The report provides a roadmap for a healthier future, but much work remains to reach this goal.”

The 17th annual State of Tobacco Control” report grades states and the federal government on policies proven to prevent and reduce tobacco use, and finds that elected officials must do more to save lives and ensure North Carolina residents benefit from reductions in tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke:

• Funding for State Tobacco Prevention Programs – Grade [F]

• Amount of State Tobacco Taxes - Grade [F]

• Strength of Smoke-free Workplace Laws - Grade [F]

• Coverage and Access to Services to Quit Tobacco - Grade [D]

• Minimum Age of Sale for Tobacco Products to 21 – Grade [F]

An increase of funding for tobacco control programs would help further reduce and prevent tobacco use. An investment in prevention is especially important given the skyrocketing number of youth who are using e-cigarettes. Despite North Carolina receiving $450 million from tobacco settlement payments and tobacco taxes, the state does not fund tobacco control efforts at levels recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“This year marks the 20th anniversary of the largest legal settlement in U.S. history – the tobacco Master Settlement Agreement. North Carolina receives millions of dollars every year from this settlement, and we believe some of these funds should be used to help smokers quit and prevent tobacco use,” said Deen.

Increasing tobacco taxes is one of the most effective ways to reduce tobacco use, not only for adults but also for youth. Multiple studies have shown that every 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes reduces consumption by about four percent among adults and about seven percent among youth.

“To protect kids from a lifetime of nicotine addiction, the Lung Association encourages North Carolina to increase tobacco taxes. This step is critical to North Carolina as the current tobacco use rate among high school age youth is 28.8 percent,” said Deen.

Nearly seven out of 10 smokers want to quit, but tobacco use is a serious addiction and quitting can be difficult. Evidence suggests that the number of people quitting smoking increased when coverage for tobacco treatments provided access to all seven FDA-approved tobacco cessation medications and all three forms of counseling without barriers, such as copays and prior authorization. North Carolina lawmakers have a powerful opportunity to help smokers quit and reduce disparities in tobacco use by covering all quit smoking treatments in its Medicaid program.

“Covering quit smoking treatments in North Carolina is the correct and smart choice. Not only will it help smokers quit and save lives, but it will also cut healthcare costs – a win for the health of North Carolina residents and the economy,” said Deen.

Tobacco is a highly addictive product, and close to 95 percent of smokers try their first cigarette by the age of 21. More must be done to prevent and reduce youth tobacco use in North Carolina, and one powerful tool is increasing the minimum age of sale for tobacco products to 21.

“Nearly all adult smokers had their first cigarette before age 21, and most before the age of 18, but we can change this in North Carolina by increasing the age of sale for tobacco products to at least 21 years old. This move would significantly reduce youth tobacco use, slow the e-cigarette epidemic and save thousands of lives,” said Deen.

“Nationwide, increasing the age of sale of tobacco to 21 would prevent 223,000 deaths among people born between 2000 and 2019, including 50,000 fewer dying from lung cancer – the nation’s leading cancer killer,” said Deen.

The U.S. Surgeon General has concluded there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke. Comprehensive smoke-free laws eliminate smoking in all public places and workplaces.

This health protection would benefit everyone and is especially critical for those who work in the service and manufacturing sectors and are often exposed to secondhand smoke. A person should not have to choose between their health and their job.” said Deen.

State of Tobacco Control 2019 provides a blueprint that states and the federal government can follow to adopt proven policies that will have the greatest impact on reducing tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke in the U.S.

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