The State of Tobacco Control, from the American Lung Association, comes out every year with grades for each state in four categories: Tobacco Prevention, Smokefree Air, Tobacco Taxes, and Access to Cessation Services. In 2015, Florida grades were dismal with three “F” grades and only one passing grade for smokefree air. And while we improved just slightly, going from an “F” in cessation to a “D”, our other grades remained the same from previous years.
Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Funding: Although Florida gets kudos from the American Lung Association for our constitutionally voter-required funding of tobacco education and prevention programs, Florida fails because the programs are funded at only 36.2% of what the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends of $194,200,000.
Smokefree Air: For the most part, you cannot smoke in Florida restaurants, schools and workplaces, but casinos owned by tribal establishments and bars with less than 10% of sales from food are exempt. Florida is also a preemptive state, meaning no city or municipality can make a law against tobacco that is stronger than the state level. Preemption is a holdover from 1985, making the state a “successful test-case for the tobacco industry lobbyists.” Considering what we know about tobacco and secondhand smoke, it is clearly time that the needs and health of the public should come first over the interests of the tobacco industry.
Tobacco Taxes: The last time Florida cigarette taxes were increased was 2009, when $1.00 was added per pack bringing the total to $1.339. As for the large cigar tax in our state, there is NONE, thanks to a strong cigar lobby that claims it would hurt their business. While everyone knows cigarette smoking is harmful, not many understand cigar smoking is equally as harmful. Electronic cigarettes also need to be included in this increase. The argument by the tobacco industry against raising the cigarette tax is that it would hurt the low income smokers. But these smokers are already being hurt as their hard earned money is going to purchase tobacco and is taking away from their other needs. Raising taxes would help decrease youth use and provide an incentive for adults to quit.
Access to Cessation Services: Our state medicaid program covers five of seven recommended cessation medications, but limits the medications to 6 months, and counseling varies according to plan. Private insurance may not even have a provision. While you can not force insurance companies to pay for cessation treatment, in the long run it would be cheaper than to continue to pay for tobacco-related doctor visits and hospitalizations. It should be mandatory for all doctors throughout the U.S. to discuss cessation treatments with patients. Cessation should be offered free of charge in all middle and high schools for those students who want to quit. Barriers to this idea is that parents would be alarmed that their child is given NRT therapy without parental knowledge, while students would not want parents to be notified. But getting students to quit while they are young would save so many lives.
These low grades are inexcusable when we have facts and figures to back up every reason to increase taxes on tobacco, provide cessation to whomever needs it, and make our public areas totally smokefree. While Florida may not fund tobacco prevention at the CDC levels, the Florida Department of Education sponsors a tobacco prevention course at no-cost for educators (with a current Florida certificate) giving them an opportunity to not only teach tobacco prevention lessons, but to also receive points towards their certificate renewal upon completion of the course. In the past four years over 2,000 teachers have completed the course and 45,000 students have benefited from these lessons. We currently have 37 out of 67 districts represented in our course and strive to teach tobacco prevention in every district. Preventing tobacco usage is a cost-saving measure every state needs.
Click HERE for the State of Tobacco Control 2016