Wisconsin did not fare well in a report released this week detailing efforts to combat tobacco use.
The 17th annual “State of Tobacco Control” study by the American Lung Association found that Wisconsin’s adult smoking rate is 16 percent, which is 2 percentage points above the national average.
The report “provides a blueprint that states and the federal government can follow to put in place proven policies that will have the greatest impact on reducing tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke in the U.S.,” said Dona Wininsky, director of advocacy, grassroots and patient engagement for ALA in Wisconsin, in a news release. “The real question is: Will lawmakers in Wisconsin end their lack of action and take this opportunity to achieve lasting reductions in tobacco-related death and disease?”
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Wisconsin was given an “F” in three of five core categories: funding for state tobacco prevention programs, coverage and access to services to quit tobacco, and pushing the minimum age of sales for tobacco products to 21. The state earned an “A” for the strength of its smoke-free workplace laws, but a “D” for its level of state tobacco taxes.
The ALA said the top performers were Alaska, California, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Maine and Massachusetts, though none earned “A’s” in all five areas. Mississippi, Missouri, Texas and Virginia earned the worst grades.
One glaring area in need of improvement in Wisconsin, according to the ALA, is in funding for prevention and control programs. The report found that in fiscal year 2019 funding in Wisconsin came to nearly $8 million, which is only 13.9 percent of a state spending recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Access to cessation services also is poor as 11 of the state’s 72 counties have no local tobacco control resources, Wininsky said.
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The ALA suggested three specific state goals for Wisconsin:
• Protect and increase funding for the tobacco control program.
• Equalize the tax on little cigars (brown cigarettes) with regular cigarettes.
• Pass legislation that places all tobacco products behind the counter or in a locked cabinet.
The report found that high school use of e-cigarettes in Wisconsin has surged 78 percent in the past year to nearly 21 percent of the student population. Overall tobacco use in our high schools is at 17.3 percent.
The overall adult tobacco use rate — currently at 20.9 percent in Wisconsin — is one thing. It’s important to remind consumers of the dangers involved, but no one extols the health benefits of tobacco and it remains a legal option for Wisconsin’s adult population.
The statistics on our youth, however, are particularly disturbing. At the very least, reports such as this will hopefully convince government to make stronger efforts to curb tobacco and e-cigarette use among teens in Wisconsin and beyond.
— Liam Marlaire, assistant editor