HARTFORD, CT — The state should follow the lead of Hartford and Bridgeport and raise the age to purchase tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, from 18 to 21, according to the latest “State of Tobacco Control” report from the American Lung Association.

Connecticut gets an “F” grade in the report for keeping the age at 18. It also received — as it has in recent years — another “F” grade for spending zero dollars on smoking cessation programs. 

The 17th annual “State of Tobacco Control” report released Wednesday grades states and the federal government on policies proven to prevent and reduce tobacco use. Connecticut received a “C” for the strength of its smoke-free workplace laws; “B” for level of state tobacco taxes; and “D” for coverage and access to services to quit tobacco.

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There are more than 30 bills related to tobacco or vaping products that have been submitted for consideration this legislative session — including several to raise the age and to spend revenue from the Tobacco and Health Trust Fund on cessation programs.

The need for Connecticut to take action to protect youth from tobacco is more urgent than ever, with youth e-cigarette usage showing a 78-percent increase from 2017 to 2018, according to results from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey.

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The U.S. Surgeon General declared e-cigarette use among young people an epidemic in an advisory issued in December 2018.

“In Connecticut our high school smoking rates remain at 17.9 percent,” said Ruth Canovi, director of Advocacy for the American Lung Association in Connecticut. “Tobacco use is a serious addiction and we need to invest in the proven measures to prevent and reduce tobacco use outlined in ‘State of Tobacco Control’.”

“Virtually all adult smokers had their first cigarette before age 21, and most before the age of 18, but we can change this in Connecticut 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,” Canovi said.

A separate study done by the state Department of Public Health found that one out of seven Connecticut high school students reported vaping in 2017, a number that was double the amount of just two years earlier.

A total of 14.7 percent of high school students in Connecticut reported vaping in 2017, compared to 7.2 percent in 2015.

Dr. David Hill, a pulmonologist and director of Clinical Research at Waterbury Pulmonary Associates, echoed the American Lung Association report’s call for legislation to protect youth from tobacco.

“According to a 2015 report from the National Academy of Medicine, raising the tobacco age to 21 nationwide 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,” Hill said. “Failing to put policies like this in place will continue to place the lung health and lives of Americans, and particularly our children, at risk.”

The report also, once again, criticized Connecticut’s continued bleeding of tobacco taxes to pay for unrelated bills in the cash-starved state.

The report notes that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a funding level of $32 million in Connecticut for such programs.

The state has a history of underfunding tobacco-prevention programs. Funding for cessation programs dropped to $6 million in fiscal year 2013, to $1.2 million in fiscal year 2016, and has been zero since.

On the issue of raising tobacco tax, in part as an effort to deter smoking, Connecticut got its “B” grade raising taxes last year 45 cents from $3.90 a pack to $4.35.

But critics have stated they’d like to see Connecticut be even bolder, taking steps such as New York City, where the cost of a pack of cigarettes is now a minimum of $13 under legislation signed in late 2017. The combination of state and city taxes on a pack of cigarettes in New York City is $5.85.