When the U.S. surgeon general first warned Americans about the health risks of smoking back in 1964, 46% of the country smoked. In the five decades since, the number of smokers has dropped by over half — but the bad habit remains the leading cause of preventable death in the United States.
The American Lung Association grades states on their progress in reducing tobacco use, and the report cards for Pennsylvania and New Jersey this year are lackluster. Both received F’s in smoking prevention and cessation, with two more C’s in Pennsylvania’s column for its relaxed indoor smoking laws and moderate taxes on cigarettes.
Deborah Brown, CEO for the American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic, said the two failing grades in Pennsylvania and New Jersey stem from a lack of funding for smoking prevention and cessation. New Jersey cut all spending on such programs, and Pennsylvania spent just $7 million.
“While we’re pleased we still have funding,” Brown said of Pennsylvania, “we believe we really need to work hard to get more funding back because we want to make sure there are prevention programs out there that encourage young people to never to start smoking — so we don’t have to worry about providing cessation programs to help them quit smoking somewhere down the road.”
Delaware, in contrast, provided significantly more state money and was one of only six states to earn passing grades in all categories. New Jersey grabbed a B for its relatively high tax on cigarettes, which at $2.70 per pack is more than a dollar higher than Pennsylvania’s.
Brown said Pennsylvania could easily improve its middling smoke-free air grade by removing exemptions in its law for some areas of restaurants, bars, and casinos.
“If you think about the number of employees and patrons who visit casinos in particular, you know there are still a lot of people in the Commonwealth who are being exposed to secondhand smoke,” she said.
And Pennsylvania is the only state not to tax other tobacco products, such as chewing tobacco and snuff, Brown said.
“In light of the surgeon general’s report celebrating its 50th year,” she said, “I would like to hope we don’t have to wait another 50 years to prevent tobacco-related death and disease.”