MONTPELIER — Despite a failing grade from the American Lung Association on tobacco control and prevention funding, those working to lower tobacco use say Vermont is doing well with the money it gets.
The annual “State of Tobacco Control” report, released by the American Lung Association came out earlier this week, and though it gave Vermont an “F” in tobacco use prevention and control program funding, it awarded “A” and “B” marks to everything else. Tobacco taxes, and access to cessation service got B grades while “smokefree air” and “minimum age” both got an A.
It should be noted that Vermont was far from the only state to receive an F on prevention funding. According to the American Lung Association’s website, 43 states plus Washington, D.C., got an F in this arena.
State Sen. Virginia “Ginny” Lyons, D-Chittenden, vice chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Health and Welfare, said in a Wednesday interview that the F mark might more a factor of how the lung association accounts for money spent on tobacco prevention and control.
Lyons is one of the co-sponsors on S.288, “An act relating to banning flavored tobacco products and e-liquids,” on which she said her committee will be taking testimony next week. It aims to ban all flavored tobacco and e-cigarettes, including menthol and mint, in order to curb tobacco use among young people.
She said Vermont, for many years, has received funds for tobacco prevention and cessation from a master settlement agreement reached between state governments and large tobacco companies in 1998.
She said that while there’s been a steep rise in the use of e-cigarettes by young people and adults, overall tobacco usage has been trending downward. In recent years, she said, the state has consolidated some of its prevention programs, and not all funds from the master settlement agreement go directly to programs for quitting smoking. Some, she said, fund tobacco sale law enforcement and education aimed at reducing use overall.
“Despite Vermont receiving $99.8 million from tobacco settlement payments and tobacco taxes, the state funds tobacco control efforts at only 46% of the level recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),” said Elizabeth Hamlin, director of advocacy for the American Lung Association in Vermont, in a statement. “The American Lung Association believe the funds should be used to support the health of our communities, and to prevent tobacco use and help smokers quit tobacco for good.”
Rhonda Williams, chronic disease prevention chief at the Vermont Department of Health, said in an interview Wednesday that the CDC’s recommended prevention funding levels vary from state to state and depend on what the smoking rates look like. It then recommends levels of funding for various efforts.
“While we don’t meet that, we have been able to do really quite well with the resources we have over the last couple of years,” she said, saying that overall, smoking rates have been declining. “That being said, we are familiar with the vaping epidemic that we and other states are facing, and so we continue to look at how can we do the most we can to bring down those numbers.”
The department is looking for more entities it can partner with to maximize its efforts., she said.
“We do the best we can with the funding we have,” said Williams. “More funding in public health is a good thing, and certainly if that were the case we would strengthen the reach we have.”
There’s a great deal of support for tobacco use reduction efforts in Vermont’s government. The American Lung Association Report Card said the state earned points for taxing e-cigarettes at the same rate as other tobacco products, and for raising the minimum age one has to be before buying tobacco from 18 to 21.