TRENTON – Tobacco use remains the nation’s leading cause of preventable death and disease, taking an estimated 480,000 lives every year.
According to a Jan. 29 release, this year’s “State of Tobacco Control” report from the American Lung Association calls for proven tobacco control policies in light of the fact that the country’s youth vaping epidemic worsened in 2019.
This dire situation is a result of states and the federal government’s failure to enact policies called for in the report such as increased tobacco taxes and stronger federal oversight of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes.
This year’s 18th annual report finds that in 2019 New Jersey had mixed progress on its efforts to reduce and prevent tobacco use, including e-cigarettes. The American Lung Association finds opportunities in 2020 for New Jersey officials to take action and increase tobacco taxes in order to support public health and save lives in 2020.
The need for New Jersey to take action to protect youth from all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, is more urgent than ever, with the youth vaping epidemic continuing its alarming rise to 27.5% or more than one in four high school students.
This is a 135% increase in high school e-cigarette use in just the past two years, and close to 3 million more youngsters started vaping in that period, setting them up for a lifetime of addiction.
“In New Jersey our adult tobacco product use rate remains at 17.2% Sadly, with the youth vaping epidemic still rising, we may have lost an opportunity to make the current generation of kids the first tobacco-free generation. Tobacco use is a serious addiction and New Jersey needs to implement the proven measures to prevent and reduce tobacco use outlined in ‘State of Tobacco Control’,” stated American Lung Association Michael Seilback, national AVP, State Public Policy.
The report grades states and the federal government on policies proven to prevent and reduce tobacco use, and finds that while New Jersey has taken significant steps to reduce tobacco use, including raising the minimum sales age for tobacco to 21, elected officials should do more to save lives and ensure all New Jersey residents benefit from reductions in tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke.
New Jersey’s Grades:
· Funding for State Tobacco Prevention Programs – Grade F
· Strength of Smokefree Workplace Laws - GradeA
· Level of State Tobacco Taxes - GradeF
· Coverage and Access to Services to Quit Tobacco - GradeF
· Minimum Age of Sale for Tobacco Products to 21 – Grade A
The American Lung Association encourages New Jersey to put in place all the public policies called for in “State of Tobacco Control,” and in particular, this year’s report noted the need to focus on:
· Passing a significant increase in tobacco taxes. One of the most effective ways to reduce tobacco use, not only among low-income individuals but also for youth is to significantly increase the tax on all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes.
Multiple studies have shown that every 10% increase in the price of cigarettes reduces consumption by about 4% among adults and about 7% among youth.
“To protect kids from a lifetime of nicotine addiction, the Lung Association in New Jersey encourages New Jersey to increase cigarette taxes by at least $1.00 per pack and equalize the tax on other tobacco products, including e-cigarettes with its cigarette tax. These steps are critical to New Jersey as current tobacco use, including vaping, among youth is 4.7%,” stated Seilback.
· Increasing funding for tobacco prevention and quit smoking programs. An investment in prevention is especially important given the skyrocketing number of youth who are vaping. “Despite New Jersey’s receiving $879,400,000 from tobacco settlement payments and tobacco taxes, the state funds tobacco control efforts at only 10.5% of the level recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The American Lung Association believes the funds should be used to support the health of our communities, and to prevent tobacco use and help smokers quit, not switch,” stated Seilback.
· Covering and providing FDA-approved quit smoking treatments for state residents. Nearly seven out of 10 smokers want to quit, but nicotine, including the nicotine found in e-cigarettes, is highly addictive and quitting can be difficult. New Jersey lawmakers have a powerful opportunity to help smokers quit by covering all quit smoking treatments in its Medicaid program, and for state employees.
This should include access to all seven FDA-approved tobacco cessation medications and all three forms of counseling without barriers, such as copays and prior authorization. Increasing the reach of the state’s quitline or phone counseling service for tobacco users is also essential.
“New Jersey has taken significant legislative and regulatory steps to expand coverage to help smokers quit, and even earned a B last year for this measure. Unfortunately, there is a lack of transparency regarding coverage and information was not provided for this report. We urge the state to increase its transparency so that the public is fully aware of what cessation services are available,” stated Seilback.
One powerful tool to address the youth vaping epidemic is increasing the minimum age of sale for tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, to 21. The U.S. Congress finished off 2019 with a huge victory passing a federal law to increase the national tobacco sales age to 21. This law will ensure that all states have a sales age of 21 in 2020.
In 2017, New Jersey was an early adopter of this public health measure when they increased the tobacco sales age to 21, an important victory in the fight to prevent youth tobacco use. Virtually all adult smokers had their first cigarette before age 21, and most before the age of 18, and multiples studies report that flavors are driving youth addiction.
However, Congress failed to pass legislation to eliminate all flavored tobacco products, making the need for state action to end the sale of all flavored products critical. Massachusetts took that historic step by prohibiting the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes in November 2019, becoming the first such state to do so.
The Lung Association urges New Jersey to follow Massachusetts’ lead and pass comprehensive laws eliminating flavored tobacco products, including menthol in 2020 in addition to the recently passed flavored e-cigarette law that Governor Murphy signed.
“State of Tobacco Control” 2020 provides an important roadmap on how states like New Jersey and the federal government can put in place the policies proven to have the greatest impact on reducing tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke.
Now is the time for New Jersey lawmakers to end their failure to act and take this opportunity to achieve lasting reductions in tobacco-related death and disease,” stated Seilback.
The question remains, will 2020 be the year that public health is prioritized over tobacco product manufacturers so that another generation is spared the addiction to dangerous tobacco products?
As the result of successful lawsuits filed by the American Lung Association and several public health partners, FDA will be required to take several important and long overdue actions to protect the public health from tobacco products in 2020.
These include finalizing graphic warning labels on all cigarette packs by March 15, and requiring all e-cigarette, and most cigar, hookah, pipe and other manufacturers of deemed products to submit applications to FDA by May 12, 2020 to remain on the market in the U.S.