The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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January 23, 2013

WV gets ‘F’ in non-smoking programs and protection

West Virginia receives straight F’s in the American Lung Association’s annual report, “State of Tobacco Control 2013.”

The report examines individual states’ progress on tobacco control policies and assigns grades based on whether laws are adequately protecting citizens from the toll tobacco use takes on lives and the economy.

The 11th annual report gave West Virginia an F in funding for tobacco prevention and control programs, smoke-free air, cigarette taxes and cessation coverage.

According to the American Lung Association, tobacco causes an estimated 3,821 deaths in West Virginia annually and costs the state’s economy $1.7 billion in health care costs and lost productivity.

In the United States, an estimated 443,000 people die from tobacco-related illness and secondhand smoke exposure each year.

Deb Brown, president and CEO of the American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic, said West Virginia failed to invest adequately in the fight against tobacco use.

West Virginia receives $231 million in tobacco-related revenue annually and only invests 28 percent of what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends should be spent on tobacco prevention and cessation programs.

Delegate and physician Margaret Anne Staggers, D-Fayette, agreed the amount spent on tobacco prevention and cessation programs budgeted by the governor and approved by legislators should be increased in the future to fall more in line with CDC guidelines.

“I think the key to prevention is making smoking less attractive to young people by showing the effects. Showing people dying of lung disease or lung cancer,” she said.

Brown notes that failing to invest in anti-smoking and cessation policies and programs takes a toll on new youth and young smokers, of which there was a 3 million increase in the United States, according to the Surgeon General’s 2012 report.

The American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic calls on West Virginia to raise taxes on tobacco products other than cigarettes to achieve tax parity. Currently, West Virginia taxes cigarettes at 55 cents per pack.

Staggers said she doesn’t think a state increase would solve any problems.

Without a national tax, people run cheaper cigarettes across state lines. An increase in state would only increase the number of people profiting from this illegal action, she said.

In addition, the report suggests West Virginia provide more tobacco prevention and control program funding, create stricter state smoking restrictions and create more comprehensive cessation coverage.

“Leaders in Charleston must provide smokers with the support they need to quit and adequately fund programs that help keep our kids off tobacco,” said Brown.

In addition to examining West Virginia overall, the “State of Tobacco Control 2013” graded individual counties on regulations restricting smoking.

Greenbrier County was one of 20 counties in the state to earn an A, meaning that smoking is prohibited in almost all public places and workplaces.

Raleigh, Fayette, Monroe and Nicholas counties earned B’s and Summers, McDowell, and Mercer counties earned C’s.

Six counties in West Virginia received an F, meaning non-smokers and children in Putnam, Gilmer, Hampshire, Hancock, Mason and Taylor counties have minimal or non-existent protection from secondhand smoke.

Staggers added that, as a member of the medical profession, she sees the end product of drug, alcohol and tobacco use.

“We certainly recommend the joy of a good, happy and healthy life for West Virginians,” she said.

Other legislators could not be reached for comment.

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