World No Tobacco Day: State Policy Approaches

May 31, 2018|12:58 p.m.| ASTHO Staff

With over two million annual deaths from tobacco-related cardiovascular disease, the World Health Organization (WHO) is reminding us during World No Tobacco Day on May 31 that tobacco breaks hearts. Here in the United States, even with promising strides to reduce tobacco use, tobacco-related cardiovascular diseases still claim over 30,000 lives each year. These deaths, however, can be avoided by preventing initiation of tobacco use among minors and young adults and promoting tobacco cessation efforts.

Preventing Initiation of Tobacco Use

Most daily smokers begin using cigarettes before the age of 19. This presents a window of opportunity to save lives by preventing minors and young adults from using tobacco products. Below are examples of new state laws from the 2018 legislative sessions that may prevent or delay the initiation of tobacco use during this critical timeframe.

On May 15, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed HB 2467, expressly allowing the Governor’s Office of Youth, Faith, and Family or the Department of Health Services to “partner with state and local education agencies and facility-based nonprofit youth development organizations” to teach students in grades five through 12 about the health dangers of illegal and addictive substances, including tobacco. Ensuring students have information about the dangers of tobacco use is a key component of comprehensive tobacco control programs. Research shows how the design and structure of school-based tobacco prevention interventions impacts effectiveness. Programs with curricula to improve the “general social competence and personal and social skills” of youth such as “problems solving, decision-making, cognitive skills to resist personal or media influences, increase self-control and self-esteem, [and] coping strategies for stress and assertiveness skills” show best results.  

On March 19, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed HB 324, amending critical components of the state’s tobacco licensing regimes to allow permitting by local health departments. Under prior law, while local health departments were responsible for compliance checks to ensure tobacco retailers abided by age of sale and other restrictions, enforcement remained with the state tax authority. In testimony supporting this law, Joseph Miner (SHO-UT) stressed that aligning these activities within local health departments gives them the critical “ability to do proper enforcement as is stated in statute to keep tobacco out of the hands of [Utah’s] youth.” (Testimony at 1:07:07.)

On March 29, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin signed HB 1010, increasing the cost of a pack of cigarettes by $1. The law also aligns the cost of “little cigars” with cigarettes. Evidence shows that increasing the cost of tobacco products can reduce the demand for those products, particularly for younger users who are more price sensitive. As reported by Tobacco Free Kids, the pricing changes in Oklahoma are expected to prevent 17,300 children in from becoming smokers.

Promoting Tobacco Cessation Efforts

Nicotine is an addictive substance that results in long-term changes in the brain, making it difficult to quit using tobacco. More than 50 percent of current smokers make a quit attempt in a given year, yet only six percent are successful. Access to evidence-based tobacco cessation treatment options can improve quit success rates by ensuring individuals who want to quit have the best tools, medical care, and resources. Quitlines are an evidence-based, cost-effective intervention that help people quit using tobacco products by directly providing or referring callers to counseling, medical care, and other resources to support the quit attempt. On May 15, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards signed HB 56, requiring tobacco retail signage to include the state’s tobacco quit line number and website address.

World No Tobacco Day provides a global opportunity to highlight the health risks of tobacco use and policy approaches that can lead to reduced consumption of tobacco products. ASTHO will continue to monitor legislation and other policy activities, as well as provide support to state and territorial health agencies as they seek to reduce tobacco use for their populations.