Tobacco use remains the nation’s leading cause of preventable death and disease, taking an estimated 480,000 lives every year. This year’s “State of Tobacco Control” report from the American Lung Association finds Connecticut had mixed progress on its efforts to reduce and prevent tobacco use. The American Lung Association calls on Connecticut officials to follow the Cities of Hartford and Bridgeport in raising the age of sale of tobacco products from 18 to 21 in order to save lives and increase funding for the tobacco and health trust fund.
The need for Connecticut to take action to protect youth from tobacco is more urgent than ever, with youth e-cigarette use reaching epidemic levels due to a 78 percent increase in high school e-cigarette use from 2017 to 2018, according to results from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey. This equals one million additional kids beginning to use e-cigarettes, placing their developing bodies and lungs at risk from the chemicals in e-cigarettes as well as a lifetime of addiction to a deadly product. This has caused the U.S. Surgeon General to declare e-cigarette use among young people an epidemic in an Advisory issued in December 2018.
“In Connecticut our high school smoking rates remain at 17.9 percent. Tobacco use is a serious addiction and we need to invest in the proven measures to prevent and reduce tobacco use outlined in ‘State of Tobacco Control’,” said Ruth Canovi, Director of Advocacy for the American Lung Association in Connecticut. “The report provides a roadmap on how to save lives, but much work remains to be done in communities across Connecticut to prevent and reduce tobacco use.”
The 17thannual “State of Tobacco Control” report grades states and the federal government on policies proven to prevent and reduce tobacco use, and finds that while some localities have recently taken significant steps to reduce tobacco use, including raising the age of sale of tobacco products, our state representatives must do more to save lives and ensure all Connecticut residents benefit from reductions in tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke:
This year’s report noted the need to focus on raising the age of sale of all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, from 18 to 21. Over the past several months two of Connecticut’s largest cities – Hartford and Bridgeport –passed similar legislation. A call for the legislation to be passed at a statewide level would strengthen and unify local laws.
Tobacco is a highly addictive product, and close to 95 percent of smokers try their first cigarette by the age of 21. More must be done to prevent and reduce youth tobacco use in Connecticut and one powerful tool is increasing the minimum age of sale for tobacco products to 21.
“Virtually all adult smokers had their first cigarette before age 21, and most before the age of 18, but we can change this in Connecticut by increasing the age of sale for tobacco products to at least 21 years old. This move would significantly reduce youth tobacco use, slow the e-cigarette epidemic and save thousands of lives,” said Canovi.
Dr. David Hill, a pulmonologist and the Director of Clinical Research at Waterbury Pulmonary Associates echoed the call to better protect youth from tobacco saying, “According to a 2015 report from the National Academy of Medicine, raising the tobacco age to 21 nationwide would prevent 223,000 deaths among people born between 2000 and 2019, including 50,000 fewer dying from lung cancer, the nation’s leading cancer killer. Failing to put policies like this in place will continue to place the lung health and lives of Americans, and particularly our children at risk.”
In addition to raising the age of sale, Connecticut must consider increasing funding for tobacco control programs, as a powerful opportunity to help further reduce and prevent tobacco use, including supporting communities that still use tobacco at higher rates and who have been targeted by the tobacco industry. An investment in prevention is especially important given the skyrocketing number of youth who are using e-cigarettes. Despite the state receiving over $500 million in tobacco-related revenue from tobacco settlement payments and tobacco taxes, the state is providing zero new funds to the tobacco programs, and last year completely removed the transfer to the tobacco and health trust fund indefinitely. With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommending a funding level of $32 million, the state of Connecticut’s lack of funding is leaving Connecticut lives on the line.
Canovi concluded, “The ‘State of Tobacco Control’ 2019 provides a blueprint that the federal and state governments 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. In the first three weeks of Connecticut’s 2019 legislative session, there are more than 30 bills attempting to further regulate tobacco, and save lives. We urge Connecticut lawmakers to take this opportunity to achieve lasting reductions in tobacco-related death and disease”