Kentucky flunks ‘State of Tobacco Control’ report

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Kentucky has once again flunked the American Lung Association’s annual look at tobacco control, but the Bluegrass state could improve its grades by passing smoke-free schools legislation, increasing the excise tax on cigarettes and spending more money to thwart tobacco use.

That’s according to Shannon Baker, an advocacy director for the association, who lamented that Kentucky received a failing grade in nearly every category of the 2019 “State of Tobacco Control” report on Wednesday.

“It’s certainly disappointing and there are things that can be done immediately to make some great progress, and that’s really where we need to focus our efforts,” said Baker, who’s based in Louisville. “We took a couple of small steps last year, but we need to take some big bold steps this year.”

In a repeat of 2018, Kentucky earned Fs in four out of five categories of the lung association’s report: funding for state tobacco prevention programs, strength of smoke-free workplace laws, level of state tobacco taxes and a category related to the age Kentuckians must be to buy tobacco products, which the association says should be raised to 21.

Kentucky’s best grade was a C for coverage and access to services to quit tobacco. That mark reflects Medicaid recipients in Kentucky being given comprehensive coverage for smoking cessation medications and counseling.

Kentucky also was lauded for boosting funding for its state tobacco prevention program to $3.77 million. “This represents over a $1 million increase in funding for the program, which is a step in the right direction,” the report says. “However, it is still $52.6 million short of the recommended spending level by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

Along with increasing that funding, the lung association would like to see the General Assembly prohibit use of tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes, at schools statewide, Baker said. While students and staff are protected “at 42 percent of Kentucky school districts, we need to get to 100 percent,” especially “given the explosive growth we have seen in youth use of e-cigarettes.”

Kentucky also needs a higher excise tax on cigarettes, according to the association. Increasing it by just 50 cents last year was “a missed opportunity,” Baker said. “To have a meaningful impact on public health evidence shows that we need to increase the tax rate by at least $1.”