Despite recent progress in tobacco control, Kentucky receives failing grades

American Lung Association Report Card:

LOUISVILLE KY (01/20/2011)(readMedia)-- In the past few years, Kentucky has made strides in tobacco control. The tobacco tax was raised by $0.30 in 2009. In 2010 the legislature approved funding for Medicaid to begin covering smoking cessation benefits. In 2011, Representative Susan Westrom has introduced a comprehensive, statewide smoke-free law.

Unfortunately, despite these successes, Kentucky failed every category in the American Lung Association's State of Tobacco Control 2010 report, which tracks progress on key tobacco control policies at the federal and state level, assigning grades based on whether laws are adequately protecting citizens from the enormous burden caused by tobacco use. In some instances, Kentucky has failed to enact much-needed laws to protect its citizens from tobacco-caused illness.

"For Kentucky it is time to move forward with renewed resolve to reduce the devastating levels of death and disease caused by tobacco use," said Representative Susan Westrom. "This is why I have filed smoke-free legislation to eliminate the needless exposure of others to the harmful effects of secondhand smoke."

"When states earn failing grades, the result is human tragedy. The report card shows what Kentucky can do to better protect its citizens from the dangers of tobacco," Westrom added.

In 2010, the American Lung Association and its public health partners worked hard to obtain funding for smoking cessation benefits to be offered through Medicaid. The Medicaid smoking cessation coalition achieved this goal and is pleased that Medicaid recipients can now receive free cessation drugs, nicotine replacement therapies, and some counseling. However, the report takes issue with the difference in cessation coverage between fee for service Medicaid and Passport offerings, the lack of more extensive counseling coverage, and the lack of adequate funding for the quitline.

In the 2011 legislative session the American Lung Association and it partners in the Smoke-free Kentucky coalition will pursue a comprehensive, smoke-free law that covers all indoor workplaces and public places, including bars and restaurants. Passage of a strong, smoke-free law could earn Kentucky its first A on the report card.

Generally, the American Lung Association report shows vital action on some fronts in the fight against tobacco, yet it also underscores tobacco's grim national toll. Each year 443,000 people die from tobacco-related illnesses and secondhand smoke exposure, making tobacco the leading cause of preventable death. Tobacco is responsible for an estimated 7,848 deaths in Kentucky. In addition, it costs the state's economy $3,767,220,000 annually in healthcare costs and lost productivity.

State Grades

The American Lung Association graded all 50 states and District of Columbia on the four proven policies to save lives and cut health care costs. These include tobacco prevention and control program funding; smoke-free air laws; cigarette tax rates; and coverage of cessation treatments and services, designed to help smokers quit.

Overall, eight states-Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia-earned all "F's", and no state earned straight "A's" in State of Tobacco Control 2010.

For the first time, the report card also provided a more complete picture of a state's cessation efforts by including data about quitlines in the state cessation grade. Quitlines are free, phone-based programs that provide services to help callers quit tobacco use.

A number of states continued in 2010 to rely on cigarette taxes for new revenues to help balance budgets, but they did not use part of the revenues to help smokers quit.

Six states raised cigarette excise taxes. Higher prices will encourage smokers to try to quit, but most smokers who ended up paying more for a cigarette pack got no additional help from the state to end their addiction to tobacco.

Only Kansas passed a strong smoke-free air law in 2010. Kentucky is not one of 27 states that have passed comprehensive laws protecting the public and workers from the dangers of secondhand smoke but has made significant progress on smoke-free ordinances at the local level. 29 communities in Kentucky have passed smoke-free laws.

The pace for passing such laws has declined sharply since 2006-2007, when 16 states and the District of Columbia met the American Lung Association's Smoke-free Air Challenge, a nationwide campaign to eliminate exposure to secondhand smoke in all work and public places.