Failing tobacco policy grades are unacceptable

Pennsylvania received generally poor grades on the most recent State of Tobacco Control report.


On Jan. 29, the American Lung Association released their annual State of Tobacco Control report, a series of grades between A-F evaluating the effectiveness of tobacco policies, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

The report assessed Pennsylvania in five key areas: tobacco prevention and cessation funding, smoke-free air laws, tobacco taxes, access to cessation services and laws dictating the minimum age of sale for tobacco products at 21.

Pennsylvania performed poorly on the report, receiving D’s and F’s in four categories and an incomplete in one, according to the report.

Pennsylvania’s report card should be the wake up call for the state government to start implementing noticeable changes in the area of tobacco prevention and cessation services. 

Sarah Lawver, director of advocacy for Pennsylvania and West Virginia for the ALA, said Pennsylvania’s disappointing report card demonstrates the state government’s lackluster effort.

“Pennsylvania’s report card through the State of Tobacco Control Report really showed that Pennsylvania lawmakers really need to do more to address youth tobacco use, e-cigarette use and access to cessation for those people who want to quit,” Lawver said. 

Pennsylvania received a failing grade in tobacco prevention and cessation funding as well as tobacco taxes.

The CDC previously recommended that Pennsylvania allocate $140 millionfrom its budget to spend on tobacco prevention and cessation funding, but the Commonwealth only spent 12.8 percent of the recommended amount for that purpose, according to the report.

Funding is essential, as it is used for comprehensive tobacco prevention and control initiatives working to prevent youth smoking, wrote Ryan Coffman, tobacco policy and control manager for the Philadelphia Department of Health, in an email to The Temple News.

“These funds are of critical importance to the department’s mission to reduce adult and youth tobacco use,” Coffman wrote. “Tobacco use remains the leading killer in Philadelphia, and to continue this important progress, it is essential that the dedicated funding meets or exceeds the levels recommended by the Centers for Disease Control.”

Additionally, raising taxes to deter people from smoking, a policy that Pennsylvania got a failing grade on, could have a noticeable impact on the number of people smoking, Lawver said.

“Tobacco taxes are an extremely effective way for youth to not smoke in the first place or people to quit,” Lawver added.

To combat youth smoking, the federal government raised the minimum age to legally buy cigarettes from 18 to 21 in December 2019, the CNN reported. Pennsylvania received an incomplete grade for this from ALA’s report, as the policy was not in place at the time, but will take effect on July 1, according to the report.

“The vast majority of smokers start before the age of 18, and the rest will be smoking by the time they’re 21,” said Jamie Magee, director of tobacco prevention and control services at the Health Promotion Council. “This policy will help keep these products out of high schools. It has been shown that the brain is still developing up until the age of 25, and tobacco use in adolescents can prime the brain for addiction.”

Pennsylvania received a marginally better grade of a D in access to tobacco cessation services, with the Commonwealth providing some coverage on Medicaid but with no provisions for private insurance, according to the report. 

Pennsylvania also received a D grade for its smoke-free air laws, as tobacco smoking is prohibited in most environments except for bars, and these restrictions do not include e-cigarettes.

Although no states got straight A’s, states like California and Maine were some of the top of the class.

Pennsylvania, take notes.

Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death, according to the CDC, and with such poor grades for tobacco policy, Pennsylvania needs to do its homework and make serious changes before more lives are lost from an issue that we can fight today.

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