Massachusetts shows leadership potential in effort to reduce tobacco use, save lives, finds new American Lung Association report

By the American Lung Association

Massachusetts received a passing grade on the American Lung Association “State of Tobacco Control” report for access to cessation services. (Image courtesy of the American Lung Association.)

The American Lung Association’s  shows Massachusetts earned overall passing grades on its tobacco policies and is in position to show great improvement in 2018. The 16th annual report grades states and the federal government on policies proven to prevent and reduce tobacco use, and it finds that while Massachusetts has taken significant steps to reduce tobacco use, elected officials must do more to save lives and ensure all residents benefit.

“Nationwide, smoking rates have continued to decline to historically low levels, yet tobacco use remains the nation’s leading cause of preventable death and disease killing over 480,000 Americans — including 9,300 Massachusetts residents — each year,” said Jeff Seyler, executive vice president, Northeast Region of the American Lung Association. “Tobacco use is a serious addiction, and the fact that 15 percent of adults and 29 percent of high school students in Massachusetts are currently using tobacco highlights how much work remains to be done in our communities to prevent and reduce tobacco use.”

This year’s “State of Tobacco Control” finds Massachusetts’s grades show that progress can be made, although more still must be done by Gov. Baker and the state legislature to enact proven policies that will reduce tobacco use and save lives:

  • Funding for state tobacco prevention programs – Grade F
  • Strength of smokefree workplace laws – Grade A
  • Level of state tobacco taxes – Grade A
  • Coverage and access to services to quit tobacco – Grade C
  • Minimum age of sale for tobacco products to 21 – Grade C

The American Lung Association in Massachusetts urges the state legislature to pass the tobacco omnibus bill, that includes raising the age of sale to 21, including the ENDS (or electronic cigarettes) in the smoke-free workplace law, and prohibiting the sale of tobacco in healthcare facilities. The bill has already been heard in the Joint Committee on Public Far merits and did pass the Senate last session 32-2. Grassroots and local support for the bill can be seen through the increase of local municipalities passing their own similar legislation: Over 155 communities have raised the age of sale to 21; 130 municipalities have included ENDS in their smoke-free workplace regulations; and 152 communities have prohibited the sale of tobacco in health care institutions. A comprehensive statewide law would support and strengthen the existing local legislation.

Sadly, the report also details that as a result of decades of targeted marketing by the tobacco industry, too many Americans haven’t seen the benefits of reduced smoking rates, and Massachusetts and the federal government could do more to ensure all Americans benefit from tobacco control efforts. According to the American Lung Association, in addition to passing the omnibus bill, Massachusetts legislators must act to protect and increase funding for the Massachusetts Tobacco Cessation and Prevention Program — which earned the state its only failing grade — and increase access to tobacco cessation services.

By increasing funding for tobacco control programs, Massachusetts would have a powerful opportunity to target these programs to communities that still use tobacco at higher rates and who have been targeted by the tobacco industry. Massachusetts receives $884 million from tobacco settlement payments and tobacco taxes, and should use more of these funds to help prevent tobacco use and help smokers quit.

Disparities in tobacco use can also be addressed through increasing access and reducing barriers to quit smoking treatments in the Massachusetts Medicaid program. While the state Medicaid program does cover all FDA approved medications and counseling, evidence suggests that the number of people quitting smoking increases when barriers, such as copays and prior authorization, are eliminated. Medicaid enrollees smoke at a rate almost three times as high as those with private insurance.

“Massachusetts residents have a lot riding on this legislative cycle. If our lawmakers pass the omnibus — and we are hopeful that they will — it will mean real lives saved from the death and illness caused by tobacco use,” said Casey Harvell Bowers, director of public policy for the American Lung Association in Massachusetts. “There has been overwhelming local support for the priorities outlined in this year’s ‘State of Tobacco Control’and we urge Governor Baker and our lawmakers to listen to their constituents and act on these critical public health initiatives.

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