State gets F in tobacco control | NevadaAppeal.com
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State gets F in tobacco control

Jill Lufrano

Nevada was one of 38 states failing to pay for tobacco-prevention programs and protecting people from second-hand smoke despite receiving millions of dollars in settlement money to take such measures, according to a national report released Monday.

The American Lung Association’s report issued an “F” to Nevada for the second year. Health officials and the Nevada Tobacco Prevention Coalition attribute the low grades to the state’s resistance to changing rules that allow smoking in the workplace and children smokers without spending money to address the problems.

“It’s very clear that Nevada suffers more from tobacco-related diseases and death than any other state in the country,” said Kendall Stagg, policy manager for the state coalition. “It is a public health crisis and our elected officials should make tobacco use its No. 1 health priority.”

Nevada receives $5 million for tobacco prevention and control from the National Centers for Disease and Control and the settlement agreement with tobacco companies, in addition to other funding from not-for-profit foundations. The money to prevent tobacco use is spent mostly on education, such as the state’s Millennium Scholarship program, treatment for quitting and school-based programs.

“We’re targeting prevention,” said Charlene Herst, manager of the tobacco prevention and education program for the Nevada State Health Division. “We don’t worry about the laws as much as we do public perception, habits and changing people’s behaviors.”

The national report gave the state a higher grade – a “C”- this year for imposing cigarette taxes. Since July 22, a pack of cigarette costs 45 cents more as part of the state’s recently approved “sin tax” package. The change is expected to further reduce the number of teens who smoke.

“We’ve seen major improvements with regard to youth smoking,” Stagg said. “The excise tax was huge in that regard, so that was a very important move taken recently.”

Youth smoking decreased from 25.2 percent in 2001 to 19.3 percent in 2003, according to the Nevada State Health Division.

“We’re just doing really well for youth smoking,” Herst said.

Adult smoking has also declined. Nevada was ranked No. 1 – or the worst state in the nation – for tobacco use among adults, but is now the sixth worst, Herst said.

Gains in education programs and the 2003 Legislature’s passage of a new law that will allow school districts to regulate tobacco use beyond what is allowed by the state were major steps taken last year, state tobacco prevention program manager Herst said.

Nevada doesn’t allow counties or cities to pass laws stronger than state laws to regulate tobacco use. Restaurants are not required to have nonsmoking areas unless there are 50 seats or more and most smoking restrictions are voluntary, Herst said.

“With our program, we work with a lot of volunteer groups, like coalitions, that are working on voluntary policies, restaurant policies and clean air awareness campaigns,” Herst said. “More and more workplaces are signing on.”

More work needs to be done, Stagg said, but using settlement money to partially fund tobacco control programs is a major step.

“Clean air has to be a priority,” Stagg said. “We’re the only state in the country that allows its workforce to be exposed to second-hand smoke on a day to day basis. Our complete lack of meaningful legislation on clean air makes us the worst in the country.

“We are the tobacco industry’s playground,” Stagg said.

The American Lung Association reported Dec. 30 that 35 states received Fs for their smoke-free air laws.

The annual report also found that 23 states received failing marks because of their inability to keep tobacco out of the hands of minors.

On a brighter note, the association reported 15 states received grades of A in at least one of the four categories, and five states – California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine and Rhode Island – got As in two categories. New York was the only state to receive As in as many as three areas.

The American Lung Association says that 440,000 people die each year from tobacco-related illnesses, while smoking costs the United States about $75 billion in direct medical costs and $82 billion in lost productivity each year.

Contact Jill Lufrano at jlufrano@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1217.