Courtesy of the American Lung Association

HARTFORD, CT —This year’s “State of Tobacco Control” report from the American Lung Association applauds lawmakers for passing a law in 2019 to raise the age for tobacco sales to 21, but also calls for additional tobacco control policies in to combat the country’s youth vaping epidemic.

The 18th annual report grades states and the federal government on policies proven to prevent and reduce tobacco use. The report provides a roadmap for the next steps needed to save lives and ensure all Connecticut residents benefit from reductions in tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke.

The state received a decent but not stellar report card – averaging C, overall.

Connecticut grades were:

• Funding for State Tobacco Prevention Programs – Grade F
• Strength of Smoke Free Workplace Laws – Grade C
• Level of State Tobacco Taxes – Grade B
• Coverage and Access to Services to Quit Tobacco – Grade D
• Minimum Age of Sale for Tobacco Products to 21 – Grade A

Connecticut was joined by 12 other states and the federal government in increasing the tobacco sales age to 21 in 2019. 

Tobacco use remains the nation’s leading cause of preventable death and disease, taking an estimated 480,000 lives every year, the report states.

The report is the second (the other was the Surgeon General’s ) issued within a few days of each other that emphasize the importance of tobacco cessation programs as key strategies to help smokers kick the habit.

This public health epidemic is a result of states and the federal government’s failure to enact policies called for in “State of Tobacco Control” report released Wednesday. Policies such as increased tobacco taxes and stronger federal oversight of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes.

The American Lung Association in a statement said it urges Connecticut officials to use the report to continue the momentum garnered with the raise the age campaign and use it to push efforts to restore state funding for tobacco prevention to which it currently contributes $0.

Advocates said the need for Connecticut to take additional action is more urgent than ever, with the youth vaping epidemic continuing its alarming rise to 27.5% or more than one in four high school students.

This is a 135% increase in high school e-cigarette use in just the past two years, and close to 3 million more kids started vaping in that time period.

“In Connecticut, our high school tobacco use rate remains at 17.9%. Sadly, with the youth vaping epidemic still rising, we may have lost an opportunity to make the current generation of kids the first tobacco-free generation,” Ruth Canovi,  American Lung Association’s director of advocacy in Connecticut, said.

“Tobacco use is a serious addiction and Connecticut needs to continue working towards proven measures to prevent and reduce tobacco use outlined in ‘State of Tobacco Control,” Canovi added.

But, Canovi’s comments were centered on cessation initiatives and what 2020 will bring.

“Despite Connecticut receiving $475 million from tobacco settlement payments and tobacco taxes, the state has contributed $0 to tobacco prevention efforts for the fifth year in a row,” Canovi said.“That leaves the total funding level – supplied only by the federal government – at just 7.1% of the level recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).”

An additional priority for the American Lung Association in Connecticut is the need to reinforce and close loopholes in Connecticut’s indoor smoke-free air laws, which saw rollback attempts in 2019. 

Nationally, Congress also failed to pass legislation to eliminate all flavored tobacco products, making the need for state action to end the sale of all flavored products critical, the report noted, adding that Massachusetts took that step by prohibiting the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes in November 2019, becoming the first such state to do so.

The Lung Association said one of its 2020 priorities will be to push Connecticut and other states to follow Massachusetts’ lead and pass comprehensive laws eliminating flavored tobacco products in 2020.

“State of Tobacco Control” 2020 provides an important roadmap on how states like Connecticut and the federal government can put in place the policies proven to have the greatest impact on reducing tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke,” Canovi said. “Now is the time for lawmakers in Connecticut to fund meaningful prevention and cessation programs and take this opportunity to achieve lasting reductions in tobacco-related death and disease.”