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Vermont has mixed results in working to reduce tobacco use
Vermont can do more to protect residents

Vermont took steps forward to reduce tobacco use in some areas, but fell short in adequately funding the tobacco control program to protect children and curb tobacco-related disease in 2012, according to the American Lung Association's State of Tobacco Control 2013 report released Jan. 16. While Vermont received a "thumbs up" for increasing funding for its state tobacco control program by $500,000, it is still only funding the program at half the CDC recommended level.

The Lung Association's annual State of Tobacco Control® report tracks progress on key tobacco control policies at the federal and state level, assigning grades based on whether laws are adequately protecting citizens from the enormous toll tobacco use takes on lives and the economy.

The 11th annual report shows how money is often at the root of the leading cause of preventable death, as state and federal policymakers are failing to battle a deep-pocketed, ever-evolving tobacco industry.

Vermont received the following grades for 2013:

Tobacco Prevention Control and Spending: D
Smokefree Air: A
Cigarette Tax: B
Cessation: D

"Increasing funding for the state's tobacco control program by half a million dollars was a giant leap in the right direction for Vermont," said Jeff Seyler, President  & CEO of the American Lung Association of the Northeast. "However, the amount of funding the program now receives is a far cry from where it once was and where it should be. The American Lung Association and our partners will continue to fight for increased funding. Adequate funding is essential if we're going to prevent kids from starting to smoke and help more smokers quit their deadly addiction."

The failure of states across the U.S. to invest in policies and programs to reduce tobacco use has resulted in 3 million new youth and young smokers in the United States, according to the Surgeon General's 2012 report.

The theme of this year's State of Tobacco Control report is "Follow the Money." The Lung Association is urging state governments to weigh the real costs tobacco use has on public health as well as the state healthcare system.

Tobacco causes an estimated 830 deaths in Vermont and costs the state's economy more than $434 million in healthcare costs and lost productivity each year, a tremendous burden the state can ill afford.  Yet, Vermont receives $114 million in tobacco-related revenue annually and only invests a $3.9 million in tobacco control, or three and one half cents for every one dollar it receives from the tobacco industry. In addition, lawmakers have regularly transferred money from the Tobacco Trust Fund, created as a sustainable source for future tobacco control efforts, to cover budget deficits. The current balance is $7 million, compared to over $30 million in 2009.    

Although Vermont's Medicaid program covers the seven recommended smoking cessation medications, the state received a 'D' in Cessation primarily due to barriers to access. These barriers include limits on duration, co-payments and prior authorization for medications. The smoking rate of Vermonters living in households that are at or below 250% of the federal poverty line is 26% compared to 9% for those above 250% the federal poverty limit. Medicaid spends $72 million per year on tobacco-related healthcare.

"Vermont should do all it can to provide easy access to proven treatments to help smokers quit," said Rebecca Ryan, American Lung Association of the Northeast's Director of Health Education & Public Policy in Vermont.

The National Institute on Money in State Politics released a report today in conjunction with "State of Tobacco Control 2013" called "Big Tobacco Wins Tax Battles," revealing preliminary data that tobacco manufacturers and retailers gave $53.4 million to state candidates for office, political parties and to oppose tobacco-related ballot measures during the 2011-2012 election cycle.

Tobacco companies continue to introduce and promote new products, such as candy-flavored cigars and dissolvable tobacco products. Youth, low-income populations, and members of the Hispanic and LGBT communities who smoke cigars are more likely to smoke flavored cigars, according to a recent study in Nicotine and Tobacco Research. Meanwhile, the sales and popularity of these tobacco products have surged in large part due to their cheaper price. Each day, roughly 3,000 youth smoke a cigar for the first time.

The American Lung Association highlights these priorities in 2013, with the shared goal of improving public health and Vermont's State of Tobacco Control grades:

¥    •Increasing funding for the state's tobacco control program and protecting the Tobacco Trust Fund for future tobacco control efforts,
¥    •Taxing "other" tobacco products, such as snuff and smokeless tobacco, at the same rate as cigarettes,
¥    •Banning smoking in vehicles containing children under the age of 18
¥    •Eliminating barriers to access of smoking cessation medications for Medicaid recipients.

"When it comes to passing laws, Vermont has done a fantastic job in terms of tobacco control. We will keep on urging Governor Shumlin and state lawmakers to continue the upswing of funding for vital cessation and prevention programs and protect the Tobacco Trust Fund," said Ryan. "The bottom line is tobacco use in our state is costing too much in healthcare expenditures and too many lives. We must do all that we can to deter youth from becoming addicted and to aid smokers in their efforts to quit."