NE gets a mixed grade in tobacco prevention and control

The American Lung Association (ALA) recently presented each state with a report card, and Nebraska got an “A”, in smoke-free indoor air.

“That is really something to be proud of,” said George Haws, coordinator of Community Connections Tobacco Free Lincoln County. He said Nebraska’s Clean Indoor Air Act, passed in 2009, is still one of the best in the country. It prohibits smoking in restaurants, bars (except cigar bars), stores, indoor worksites and offices.

However, the ALA gave Nebraska failing grades in other areas of tobacco control.

One of those areas is federal and state spending on tobacco prevention and control programs. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says we should be spending $20.8 million per year, but the amount budgeted for 2016 is only $3.7 million. That contrasts with the following costs borne by Nebraskans each year because of smoking:  $795 million in medical expenses and $532 million in lost productivity.

The ALA also gave Nebraska an “F” in tobacco excise taxes, noting that an increase in the tax rate would likely result in fewer youth starting to use tobacco. The state excise tax on a pack of cigarettes is currently $0.64. The average state excise tax across the U.S. is $1.76 per pack, and 39 states have higher tax rates than Nebraska.

Nebraska also got a failing grade in access to tobacco cessation services. The ALA recommended strengthening provisions of insurance and state Medicaid programs to help people who want to quit. They also recommended that more money be spent in support of telephone Quitline (tobacco counseling) services.

“We have a ways to go,” said Haws, but noted that progress has been made in efforts to reduce the impact of tobacco on our state and local community. For example, “more people are choosing to have smoke-free homes and vehicles, many apartment owners have adopted smoke-free policies for their buildings, and all local schools, from kindergarten through college, are tobacco-free,” he said.

Haws added that North Platte city ordinances prohibit smoking in a number of outdoor recreational areas, and people are becoming more aware of the dangers of tobacco and secondhand smoke.

Tobacco Free Lincoln County partners with local organizations and individuals to keep youth from starting to use tobacco, reduce access to tobacco products, and increase awareness about the dangers of secondhand smoke. It is funded by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services/Tobacco Free Nebraska Program as a result of the Tobacco Master Settlement agreement.