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New report on tobacco prevention gives New York State mixed grades

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The American Lung Association is giving New York State mixed grades in its latest report on tobacco prevention, the 19th annual “State of Tobacco Control.”

The report (click here to view) suggests tobacco use remains a public health threat during the COVID pandemic. Michael Seilback, the Association’s national assistant vice president for state public policy, explains many parents reported observing signs of tobacco withdrawal in their children during the lockdown at the onset of the pandemic. He also points out that many adult smokers, working from home, suddenly found themselves in an environment no longer restricted by smoke-free workplace laws.

“We know smokers are at even higher risk from COVID-19. If they get COVID-19, they're more likely to deal with severe symptoms,” Seilback said. “Now is as good a time as any to make a plan to quit smoking. Because the last thing you'd want to see is complications from COVID-19 as well.”

The Association gives New York an A grade for its smoke-free workplace laws, and B grades for its level of tobacco taxes and access to services to help people quit tobacco use. But the report also criticizes the state for what it considers unacceptable underfunding of prevention programs. But it gives Albany an F for what it considers an unacceptable level of funding to support such programs.

Currently, New York spends about $39 million on assorted tobacco prevention efforts. Seilback says the state was spending up to $85 million under Governor George Pataki, who left that office in 2006. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to Seilback, spend up to $200 million yearly.

“The money's there,” he said. “New York kicks in over $2 billion a year in tobacco taxes and master settlement agreement dollars from the tobacco companies. So what we're saying is, take some of that money and reinvest it back into New Yorkers, so that we could finally end the tobacco epidemic once and for all.”

New York State also scores low in a newly introduced category of the report, ending the sale of flavored tobacco products, earning a D. The state has enacted legislation banning flavored vaping products, and also banning the sale of tobacco and nicotine vaping products in pharmacies. But the Association suggests Albany, in the meantime, hasn’t done enough to keep minors away from flavored tobacco.

“Two summers ago, we were seeing a rash of lung health injuries related to vaping products. Legislators and the governor really decided that they were going to crack down on e-cigarettes, which certainly was a major problem and is still driving a lot of tobacco use. However, we know products like menthol cigarettes and other flavored tobacco products continue to be used by our kids,” he said. “We think that they need to close those loopholes.”

By comparison, the Association gives the federal government high grades for tobacco prevention and reduction media campaigns, and for setting the minimum age for legal sales at 21 years old. But Washington fares poorly in regulation of products, coverage of treatments to quit, and the level of federal tobacco taxes.

Not covered in the report but an issue already being considered for the future is the possible legalization of marijuana in New York State. Seilback suggests the Association is cautiously optimistic that Albany won’t compromise existing public smoking laws. But ingesting marijuana, like tobacco, is a lung health issue worth noting.

“There are many other effects that are not lung health effects that some of our partners are working on. But from a lung health perspective, you know, we want to make sure that New Yorkers realize that inhaling anything into your lungs is dangerous if it’s not healthy clean air,” he said.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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