HARTFORD, CT — Connecticut received kudos for being one of the states to raise to 21 the age to purchase tobacco products, but was also singled out in a report by the American Cancer Society for not spending any tobacco settlement money on smoking cessation programs.
The report, which is now in its 17th year, gave Connecticut mixed reviews when it came to implementing policies and passing legislation to prevent and reduce suffering and death from cancer.
Connecticut measured up to policy recommendations in just half of the eight areas measured.
Although the report celebrated the passage of Connecticut’s tobacco age increase, it highlighted shortcomings in the state’s approach to tackling tobacco control through proven prevention and cessation programs.
This year’s report includes a special section examining efforts to stem youth tobacco product use by raising the legal age of sale to 21.
E-cigarettes have driven a 36% rise in youth tobacco use over the last year — and in statehouses across the country, policymakers have prioritized efforts to keep tobacco products out of the hands of kids, introducing 88 bills that raised the age of sale for tobacco products.
In Connecticut, anti-smoking advocates pushing an initiative to raise the age to smoke and vape were armed with a state Department of Public Health Youth Tobacco Survey, which indicated e-cigarette use among high school students more than doubled from 7.2% in 2015 to 14.7% in 2017.
“Connecticut seized the opportunity to protect kids from a lifelong addiction to tobacco products by passing comprehensive tobacco 21 legislation this year,” said Bryte Johnson, director of government relations for ACS CAN in Connecticut.
“This marked an important step in protecting our communities from tobacco’s deadly toll,” Johnson said. “Now our lawmakers should focus on funding proven tobacco prevention and cessation programs — programs we know can help current smokers quit and prevent another generation of youth becoming hooked on this deadly product.”
Johnson returned to a subject he has raised often in the past few years — the lack of any state spending on tobacco cessation programs.
“Connecticut ranks among the bottom in the nation for funding the state’s tobacco control program,” Johnson said. “Currently, we are among only six states in the nation that have allocated zero dollars toward this lifesaving program. This is despite the fact that smoking costs Connecticut $2.03 billion in healthcare costs each year.”
A color-coded system in the report classifies how well a state is doing in each issue. Green shows that a state has adopted evidence-based policies and best practices; yellow indicates moderate movement toward the benchmark and red shows where states are falling short.
“This year alone in Connecticut, nearly 22,000 people will be diagnosed with cancer,” Johnson said. “We owe it to them — and to everyone at risk of developing this disease — to do everything in our power to prevent cancer and improve access to screenings and treatment.”
Nationally, the report finds that increased access to health coverage through Medicaid is the most met benchmark, with 35 states, in addition to the District of Columbia, having broadened eligibility to cover individuals earning up to 138% of the federal poverty level—that is, $17,236 a year for an individual and $35,535 for a family of four.
Smoke-free legislation is the report’s second-most met benchmark, with 27 states, in addition to the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and U.S. Virgin Islands, considered “doing well.”