RICHMOND, Va. (WFXR) — Virginia earned four failing grades in the American Lung Association’s 20th annual “State of Tobacco Control” report, which revealed that the Commonwealth is lagging when it comes to passing policies to reduce and prevent tobacco use, including e-cigarettes.

The American Lung Association says the “State of Tobacco Control” report evaluates state and federal policymakers on actions taken to eliminate tobacco use — which is the nation’s leading cause of preventable death — and includes recommendations for tobacco control laws and policies with proven effectiveness when it comes to saving lives.

The 2022 “State of Tobacco Control” report reveals that the country has made substantial progress  in advancing tobacco control policies over the past 20 years, including comprehensive smoke-free laws in more states, increased tobacco taxes across the nation, and more Americans with access to treatments to help them quit smoking through state Medicaid programs.  

However, according to a statement released by the American Lung Association on Wednesday, Jan. 26, this year’s report also says that products like e-cigarettes, as well as menthol cigarettes and other flavored tobacco products, are leading to concerns when it comes to losing another generation to nicotine addiction. 

“State of Tobacco Control” 2022 graded the federal government in five areas:  

  • Federal government regulation of tobacco products: Grade D
  • Federal coverage of quit smoking treatments: Grade D
  • Level of federal tobacco taxes: Grade F
  • Federal mass media campaigns to prevent and reduce tobacco use: Grade A
  • Federal minimum age of sale for tobacco products to 21: Grade Incomplete because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was more than 18 months overdue in publishing the final Tobacco 21 regulations, as required by statute

As for Virginia, in particular, officials say lawmakers have made strides to reduce tobacco use in the Commonwealth in the last 20 years– like raising the tobacco sales age from 18 to 21 — but the adult smoking rate is still 13.6 percent while the high school tobacco use rate is 22.5 percent.   

“While we have seen some progress in Virginia, tobacco use remains our leading cause of preventable death and disease, taking an estimated 10,310 lives each year,” said Aleks Casper, director of advocacy at the American Lung Association in Virginia. “And our progress on tobacco control policy has not been equal. We continue to see the unequal burden of tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke in communities experiencing health disparities.”

The “State of Tobacco Control” report grades states in five areas that have been proven to prevent and reduce tobacco use. Virginia received the following grades for 2022:  

  • Funding for state tobacco prevention programs: Grade F 
  • Strength of smoke-free workplace laws: Grade F 
  • Level of state tobacco taxes: Grade F 
  • Coverage and access to services to quit tobacco: Grade D 
  • Ending the sale of all flavored tobacco products: Grade F 

The only difference between Virginia’s grades in 2022 versus 2021 is the “Coverage and access to services to quit tobacco” score, which increased from an F to a D since last year.

You can read the more in-depth report about Virginia for 2022 by following this link.

“In 2022, Virginia needs to redouble its efforts to pass the proven policies called for in ‘State of Tobacco Control’ to help end tobacco use,” said Casper. “We cannot afford to wait 20 more years and allow another generation to suffer from tobacco-caused addiction, disease and death.”

According to Wednesday’s statement, this year’s report notes the need for Virginia policymakers to focus on licensing all tobacco product retailers; increasing the cigarette tax and creating parity between cigarette and other tobacco products taxes; and increasing funding for tobacco control programs. 

Tobacco retailer licensing:

Virginia does not require tobacco and e-cigarette retailers to obtain a tobacco retail license. However, officials say that strong retail licensing requirements have been found to reduce youth e-cigarette and tobacco use. 

The report says a retail licensing plan should include e-cigarette retailers, annual license renewal, graduated penalties for violations with suspension and revocation provisions, and required retailer education.  

“A comprehensive tobacco retail license program is needed in Virginia in order for lawmakers to effectively reinforce, educate, monitor or penalize illegal sales of tobacco products,” Casper explained.  “A comprehensive plan would include the maintenance of an inclusive Commonwealth tobacco retailer list, retailer tobacco education and compliance training; and monitoring through required retailer compliance checks.” 

Increased tobacco tax:

According to health officials, one of the most effective ways to reduce tobacco use among low-income individuals and among youth involves a significant increase in the tax on all tobacco products, such as e-cigarettes.

Wednesday’s statement says that multiple studies have shown that every 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes reduces consumption by about 4 percent among adults and about 7 percent among youth.  

“To protect kids from a lifetime of nicotine addiction, the Lung Association in Virginia encourages the Commonwealth to increase cigarette taxes by a minimum of a $1.00 per pack and equalize the tax on other tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and cigars with its cigarette tax,” said Casper. 

Increased funding for tobacco prevention and quit smoking programs:

The American Lung Association emphasizes the importance of investing in tobacco prevention efforts, especially given the ongoing youth vaping epidemic.  

“Despite receiving $395.1 million from tobacco settlement payments and tobacco taxes, Virginia only funds tobacco control efforts at 16.4 percent of the level recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),” Casper said. “The Lung Association believes the funds should be used to support the health of our communities, and to prevent tobacco use and help people quit, and not switch to e-cigarettes. These programs are also critical for helping to end tobacco-related health disparities.”

For more information about the 2022 “State of Tobacco Control” report, follow this link.