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States Can't Stop Smoking

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For a long time, it looked like the tobacco industry, and smokers generally, would lose every battle they fought. There were the smoking bans that sped quickly from restaurants to streets and up to the doorsteps of private homes, pitting neighbor against neighbor. And then the ban on flavored cigarettes. Then, nearly, new packaging so gross that it was difficult to imagine how someone could smoke after seeing it.

Except, apparently, current anti-smoking efforts aren’t going all that well. Good news for RJ Reynolds and Phillip Morris.

According to the American Lung Association’s State of Tobacco Control 2012 report card, 43 states and Washington DC earned a grade of F for their funding of tobacco control and prevention programs. Another 32 states received failing grades for their work providing cessation methods to Medicaid recipients and state employees.

Six states failed in every available category (try to guess which six; it’s fairly easy) against only four that managed to pass every category. No one got straight A’s.

On a brighter note, the federal government scored an A for FDA regulation of tobacco in spite of the ruling against its graphic warning labels. That said, the rest of its grades were pretty terrible. Overall, the ALA calls 2011 “an abysmal year for tobacco control.”

Among the issues pointed to by the survey were new tobacco industry efforts targeted at young people. The companies now sell products like toothpicks and dissolvable breath strips, laced with nicotine, in order to introduce people to tobacco.

Declining state revenues also affected anti-tobacco programs as cash-strapped states cut their funding. According to the researchers, 2011 was the first year in recent memory that no state significantly raised cigarette taxes. One state, New Hampshire, went so far as to cut cigarette taxes by ten cents in 2011.

The economy is the most likely culprit in this year’s poor showing and it seems likely that anti-smoking efforts will rebound over the next few years. While researchers are obviously disappointed, there’s no reason to fear a real resurgence in smoking rates.

Then again, one smoker did manage to capture the popular imagination this year and it’s always possible that more could follow.
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