Washington, Oregon get mixed marks on tobacco control

Washington and Oregon were given good grades for smoke-free air but poor marks for spending on prevention and cessation efforts.

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While Washington and Oregon got a high mark or two in the just-released 2010 "State of Tobacco Control" report from the American Lung Association, both states have some work to do to raise other scores.

Washington gets an "A' for smoke-free air, as well as for increasing the cigarette tax, but received an "F" for spending on tobacco prevention control and for its stop-smoking efforts.

According to the study, Washington is among the majority of states using 50 percent or less of money from the tobacco industry and state and federal funds for tobacco control programs. The state went from an all-time funding high of $26 million to just under the $12 1/2 million slotted for 2011.

It is also one of 37 states at the bottom of the report's grading scale for helping its residents stop smoking, the report found. Washington has too many barriers to getting help, including required counseling and limited or complicated health plans. The state invests $2.01 per person in its cessation funding, while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends an investment of $10.53 per smoker.

Washington state has challenged that grade in the past and disagrees with that finding now, officials said today.

Jumping the tax on a pack of smokes from $1 to more than $3 got Washington state a "thumbs up" from the American Lung Association this year. It is one of only five states to have a tax of $2.90 or more per pack.

Oregon landed an "F" for money awarded to tobacco prevention, and "D" for its cigarette taxes and stop-smoking efforts. The state Medicaid program was commended, however, for covering all recommended stop-smoking medications and counseling.

The state also gets an "A" for restricting smoking in numerous public places.

The annual ALA report, now in its ninth year, tracks progress on key tobacco control policies at state and federal levels and gives grades to tobacco control laws and regulations. The federal government, all 50 state governments and the District of Columbia are graded to determine if tobacco control laws are adequately protecting citizens from the toll in lives and money caused by tobacco use, the association said.

The ALA's report is traditionally a hard grader, said Tim Church, communications director for the Washington state's Department of Health. "These reports are not aimed at criticizing a program, but to look at the big picture, whether programs are receiving the support they need to be effective."

The report found four major trends from the year's tobacco control efforts at state and federal levels. Those include:

Regulating tobacco products -- While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration began its work implementing the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, the tobacco industry continued its decades-old practice of sustaining smokers' addiction and deceiving consumers, the ALA said.

Prevention and wellness -- Tobacco prevention and smoking cessation emerged as cornerstones in the federal government's prevention and wellness initiatives.

State tobacco taxes -- States continued to turn to tobacco taxes to balance budgets and then failed to help smokers quit.

State smoke free laws -- The passage of comprehensive state smoke free laws slowed drastically in 2010.

The report noted recent efforts by the federal government, including a choke hold on tobacco marketing to kids, a ban on misleading cigarette labels such as "low tar" and "light" and better warnings on smokeless tobacco products. Efforts to engage the public, to lead by example and to improve the public's health were also praised.

Each state's grades reflect how well its tobacco control laws measure up to the best in the nation or to goals set by federal agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Many states have hard-working tobacco control coalitions that encounter stiff resistance from state legislators and powerful tobacco interests. The grades in this report in no way reflect the level of effort invested by the public health community. Instead, it is the responsibility of elected officials to muster the political will to enact these life- and revenue-saving policies," the report's authors noted.

His department has no control over the state money allocated for tobacco education and prevention, Church said. "It's up to the legislature and the governor to determine what that funding level is."

This year's budget of about $12 million reflects a trend of budget cuts over the past several years, he added.

Despite the report's failing grade for Washington's efforts to get smokers to quit, other numbers validate those Church pointed out. "We know we're doing a lot of things right here in the state of Washington tobacco prevention ... now we have the third lowest rate in nation."

The ALA would like the state to "more freely provide nicotine replacement products," he said, and not make counseling through the state's tobacco Quitline a requirement to getting nicotine patches and gum.

The state sees things differently, following best practices on a national level. "We want to have these callers commit to quitting smoking, we need them to interact with the Quitline people," Church explained. "We believe it should be more than nicotine replacement therapy.

"We want to help but we want to make sure they have the best chance of quitting possible."

When smokers call the smoking help line, it more than doubles their chances of quitting, he added.

And no better time than now with the state budget so uncertain, he said. "People shouldn't wait, they should call and take advantage of it while funding is in place."

For more information about the Washington state Department of Health's Quitline, call (1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669 )or 1-877-2NO-FUME (1-877-266-3863) or go to www.quitline.com.

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