Ohio’s tobacco prevention efforts get mostly Fs

Ohio’s latest report card from the American Lung Association is nothing to write home about. Although the state earned an A for the strength of its smoke-free workplace laws, it got low marks in other areas, including three Fs.

The lung association’s 16th annual report card found that while Ohio took “significant efforts to reduce tobacco use,” elected officials need to do more to save lives.

The F grades were for the level of funding for tobacco prevention programs, the level of state tobacco taxes and for allowing people to begin buying tobacco at age 18, rather than at 21.

RELATED: Public health wants Dayton to raise smoking age to 21.

Ohio also earned a D for coverage and access to services to quit tobacco, according to the group.

“We know how to reduce tobacco use in this country,” said Ken Fletcher, the lung association’s Ohio director of advocacy. “Ohio’s elected officials must act to implement these proven policies, which will prevent tobacco-caused death and disease, and help keep our lungs healthy.”

John Fortney, press secretary for the Ohio Senate Majority Caucus, said fiscal 2018 spending for tobacco cessation and prevention programs totals $12.5 million each in fiscal years 2018 and 2019.

“These programs remain an important issue to our members, so much so, that funding for smoking cessation programs was not only protected but increased by $8 million during a very challenging budget process that reduced overall spending by more than $1 billion,” Fortney said.

In Ohio more than 22 percent of adults and 15 percent of high school age children smoke, and smoking costs $5.6 billion in annual health care, according to the report.

RELATED: City of Dayton may test employees for nicotine

The group called for a number of measures:

  • Increase funding for tobacco control programs;
  • Use more of the 1998 tobacco settlement on preventing tobacco use and helping people quit;
  • Raise tobacco taxes by at least $1 a pack; and
  • Raise from 18 to 21 the minimum age to buy cigarettes.

The tobacco settlement resulted in Big Tobacco compensating states on an annual basis for the cost of caring for people with smoking-related illnesses. However, Ohio, like many other states, used some of the settlement money to balance its budget.

RELATED: Wright State bans cigarettes on campus

Earmarking more of the money to smoking cessation efforts would help, according to the group, but it also wants to raise tobacco taxes and the minimum age for smoking.

“Increasing tobacco taxes is one of the most effective ways to reduce tobacco use, not only among low-income individuals but also for youth,” the group’s news release says.

Although smoking rates have declined to historically low levels, tobacco use remains “the nation’s leading cause of preventable death and disease killing over 480,000 Americans each year,” Fletcher said.

Melanie Amato, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Health, said the state has a variety of programs to help smokers and has seen a decline in smoking since 2011.

“We are investing more than $13 million a year through the current state budget on tobacco control activities aimed at decreasing the initiation of use of tobacco, increasing the number of people who quit tobacco use, and protecting Ohioans from exposure to secondhand smoke,” she said. “The Ohio Department of Health has a robust tobacco use prevention and cessation program and works closely with the statewide Tobacco Free Ohio Alliance.”

Other stories by Lynn Hulsey

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Crowded governor field puts Democratic race up for grabs

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U.S. Senate: Gibbons gets endorsement from head of Montgomery Co. GOP

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