Rhode Island ranks 40th nationwide in funding programs that prevent kids from using tobacco and help smokers quit, according to a report released today by leading public health groups. Rhode Island is spending $390,926 this year on tobacco prevention and cessation programs, which is just 3.1 percent of the $12.8 million recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The report challenges states to do more to fight tobacco use – the nation's No. 1 preventable cause of death – and to confront the growing epidemic of youth e-cigarette use in America. In Rhode Island, 6.1 percent of high school students smoke cigarettes, while 20.1 percent use e-cigarettes. Tobacco use claims 1,800 Rhode Island lives and costs the state $640 million in health care bills annually.
Other key findings include:
The report – "Broken Promises to Our Children: A State-by-State Look at the 1998 Tobacco Settlement 20 Years Later" – was released by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights and Truth Initiative. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the landmark 1998 legal settlement between the states and the tobacco companies, which required the companies to pay more than $200 billion over time as compensation for tobacco-related health care costs.
Rhode Island's high cigarette tax ($4.25 per pack) and comprehensive smoke-free workplace law have helped drive the state's high school smoking rate down to 6.1 percent. To continue making progress, health advocates are urging Rhode Island leaders to increase funding for its tobacco prevention program and to raise the legal sale age of tobacco products to 21.
"Rhode Island has made great strides in reducing smoking rates, but state leaders cannot let their guard down as tobacco is still the No. 1 cause of preventable death and e-cigarettes threaten to addict another generation," said Matthew L. Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. "Rhode Island can do its part to make the next generation tobacco-free by raising the tobacco age to 21 and increasing its investment in tobacco prevention."
Nationwide, the U.S. has reduced smoking to record lows – 14 percent among adults and 7.6 percent among high school students. But tobacco use still kills more than 480,000 Americans and costs the nation about $170 billion in health care expenses each year. Today's report highlights the need to address large disparities in who still smokes, with smoking rates highest among people with lower income and less education, residents of the Midwest and South, American Indians/Alaska Natives, LGBT Americans, those who are uninsured or on Medicaid, and those with mental illness.
The report also highlights the youth e-cigarette epidemic. Driven by the popularity of Juul, a sleek, easy-to-hide e-cigarette that is sold in sweet flavors and delivers a powerful dose of nicotine, e-cigarette use among U.S. high school students skyrocketed by 78 percent this year to 20.8 percent. In 2018, more than 3.6 million middle and high school students were current e-cigarette users – an alarming increase of 1.5 million in just one year.
By funding tobacco prevention and cessation programs at the CDC's recommended levels, states can reduce tobacco use among all Americans. But most states are falling far short:
The report and state-specific information can be found at tfk.org/statereport.
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