The Times West Virginian

January 24, 2013

West Virginia doesn’t need more failing tobacco grades

Times West Virginian

— It’s a subject we have mentioned many times in the past, but each time the situation occurs, we believe it deserves another mention.

Perhaps one of these days the problem will be corrected.

And what is the problem? Tobacco-related, once again. The state of West Virginia has not done enough to protect residents from tobacco-caused disease and death, according to the latest report from the American Lung Association.

The American Lung Association tracks state and federal policies and assigns grades based on whether laws are adequately protecting citizens.

Well, do you have any curiosity about where West Virginia ranks in this latest  “report card”? You should, because you can probably imagine that it’s very low.

The Mountain State was given another “F” grade. The state received an “F” in every category, including funding for tobacco-prevention and -control programs, smoke-free air, cigarette taxes and cessation coverage.

The report also assigns grades for each county in the state based on the strength of its smoke-free regulations. Counties with “A” grades prohibits smoking in almost all public places and workplaces. An “F” grade means there are inadequate or non-existent protections from second-hand smoke.

Marion County received a “C” grade in 2012. A check of our neighboring counties showed Monongalia and Harrison both had “A’s” while Wetzel had a “C” while Taylor was dealt a grade of “F.”

Just for the record, 20 state counties received “A” grades. These counties are obviously aware of the problems and are tackling them head on. Nineteen counties received “B” grades. That means about three-fourths of the 55 counties received very positive grades. Ten received “C” grades. Not the best mark, to be sure, but it apparently shows they are trying. The other six counties were stuck with “F” grades.

So what can West Virginia do to improve its standing?

Deb Brown, president and CEO of the American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic, said the state should raise taxes on tobacco products other than cigarettes. The current cigarette tax rate is $0.55 per pack of 20, but Brown said the association hopes the state will increase that tax by $1.

Brown said that “one of the proven things we have seen is whenever you increase the cost of tobacco products, younger people are deterred by that. Adults will rethink the use of those products, too.”

She said West Virginia also should focus on prevention.

"West Virginia put in $5.8 million to work on prevention programs and they do a great job with that $5.8 million, but there should be more money put in so that we can make sure young people who start smoking have access to the treatment and methods that they can have without any barriers,” she added.

Efforts continued during the 2012 legislative session to increase the excise tax on cigarettes. A bill was introduced in the West Virginia State Senate to increase West Virginia’s excise tax on tobacco by $1 per pack with half of the revenue directed to help fund a tobacco-control and -prevention program at the level recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Unfortunately, the bill never made it out of committee.

Deb Brown is correct.  A more-serious effort is needed to protect children against tobacco, and to help those citizens who are looking for assistance to stop smoking. West Virginia doesn’t need any more failing grades.