The American Lung Association has released its 16th annual State of Tobacco Control report for each state and provides grades in four areas: Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Funding, Smokefree Air, Tobacco Taxes, and Access to Cessation Services. A new category was added in 2017 for those states that have raised their state tobacco age to 21. The one thing we can say is Florida remains consistent in its grades and there is room for improvement.
Once again Florida has earned an F in Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Funding by only providing 36.7% of what the Centers for Disease Control recommends. Total funding for FY2018 is $71,278,084 and the CDC recommends $194,200,000. On a side note you should know Florida’s citizens voted for Article X, Section 27 of the state constitution so money would be dedicated to tobacco prevention. Now our state Finance and Taxation Committee of the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) wants to take money away from tobacco prevention and put it towards cancer research. Our youth smoking rate is below the national average, but teens are turning to other nicotine products such as vaping and a new generation of teens is getting hooked all over again. Research has also shown that those teens who are currently vaping have a high probability of turning back to conventional cigarettes in the years to come. Keeping our tobacco prevention programs funded at the current rate and teaching our kids about the dangers of tobacco/nicotine addiction will decrease future cancer rates.
For several years now Florida has received a B in Smokefree Air. While that is an above-average, commendable grade, we could do better. If you go to a restaurant, school or workplaces, you will have smokefree air. But bars with less than 10% of sales from food and casinos owned by tribal establishments are exempt. All Florida workers need smokefree laws to protect them. In case you didn’t know, Florida is a preemptive state, a 1985 tobacco-industry holdover, which means cities and counties can’t put laws into place to protect their residents if the laws are stronger than the state. It is time to make Florida businesses smoke-free for the health of all Florida workers which should come before tobacco industry interests that continue to control our state.
As of January 1, 2018, Florida comes in at 30th for Tobacco Taxes and earns another F in this category. The national average currently stands at $1.72 and Florida has been at $1.339 since 2009. Little and large cigars are not taxed thanks to a strong cigar lobby in our state that claims taxing cigars would destroy the fragile industry and take away its livelihood. However, flavored little cigars are not manufactured by our cigar industry and are not smoked by true cigar aficionados. Instead they are purchased by teens who can get 2 or 3 little cigars for under $1. Each one of these cigars have the nicotine equivalent of 3 cigarettes and because of the size and flavoring, are smoked like a cigarette into the lungs rather than like a true cigar in which the smoke is held in the mouth. Teens also believe these little cigars are safer than cigarettes because of the flavorings.
If we are serious about getting people to quit tobacco, Florida has to get on board with providing Cessation Services to more people. Right now Florida received a D in this area, but there are so many ways to improve the health of our residents. Florida offers cessation access to state employees, but those who rely on state aid are limited in their resources such as medications and counseling. All patients, whether covered by private insurance or state aid, should be asked by doctors about their tobacco use. We already know tobacco use causes cancer, heart disease, strokes, COPD, diabetes and a laundry list of other problems. The state of Florida, and insurance companies, could save millions of dollars a year in health care for tobacco-related illnesses if patients were required to be counseled regarding cessation and follow-up was maintained in this area.
And finally, Tobacco 21. This category was added in the last two years, so the majority of states have not passed legislation raising the age. Right now the legal age in Florida for tobacco purchases is 18, but fewer high school student would be able to purchase products for underaged peers if the age was raised. As an example, during an in-district conference we were talking to a teacher and mother whose 17 year old son was vaping. His friend, who was 18, purchased the device for him. If the age was 21, this student would not have been able to make a purchase. On the other hand, in Florida it is illegal for anyone to purchase tobacco for a minor, but the law is rarely followed and arrests are not made. Too many students under 18 are using tobacco/nicotine products. On a side note, raising the age to 21 is currently being considered here in our state.
Laws to improve the health of Florida residents should be foremost in the minds of our lawmakers. While we discuss the rising opioid addition gripping our nation, we forget we already have a life-long nicotine addition that is costing our state billions of dollars every year in annual health care costs, Medicaid costs, and smoking-caused productivity losses, and taking the lives of 32,300 adults each year. Raising taxes of all tobacco products and e-cigarette products would decrease nicotine use by both kids and adults which will decrease tobacco-related health care in our future. Providing cessation products at no or low costs will encourage more to quit. Continued tobacco prevention education for our youth will help decrease future tobacco/nicotine use by helping them understand the dangers of the products. And raising the tobacco age to 21 will deter many of our youth from ever starting a lifelong nicotine addiction from peer pressure in school. Florida really can’t afford to ignore these problems anymore.
Click HERE for the State of Tobacco Control 2018 report for Florida.