Annual smoking report kicks Illinois in the butts
State gets failing grades almost across board on issues including raising the smoking age to 21
By Ted Cox
Illinois is failing almost across the board on smoking issues, according to an annual report from a prominent health group.
The American Lung Association released its 17th annual “State of Tobacco Control” report last week, and while it criticized the federal government for lack of regulation and low taxes, it gave Illinois failing grades almost across the board on smoking issues.
Raising the smoking age to 21 is a key issue for the group, and it hit hard on former Gov. Rauner’s veto of a bill last year that would have hiked the smoking age. The state Senate voted to override the veto in November, but the House did not follow suit, leaving the legal smoking age at 18.
The state got failing grades in funding for anti-smoking campaigns, in the promotion of services to quit smoking, and for the low level of tobacco taxes, as well as for the smoking age.
The report also issued a dire warning that the use of e-cigarettes by high-school-age teens is at “epidemic levels,” rising 78 percent last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey.
“In Illinois, our smoking rates remain at 15.5 percent and tobacco use remains the state's leading cause of preventable death and disease, killing more than 18,000 people per year,” said the ALA’s Kathy Drea. “We need to invest in proven measures to prevent and reduce tobacco use such as raising the legal sales age of tobacco products.”
Drea hammered on the need to raise the smoking age, saying, “Tobacco is a highly addictive product, and close to 95 percent of smokers try their first cigarette by the age of 21. Tobacco 21 would significantly reduce youth tobacco use, slow the e-cigarette epidemic, and save thousands of lives," she said. "We call for state legislators and Gov. J.B. Pritzker to take action to protect the children of Illinois by raising the minimum sales age for tobacco, including e-cigarettes, to 21.”
Illinois got an A in the strength of its laws on smoke-free workplaces, but otherwise failed across the board. Chicago, however, got A’s across the board for raising the smoking age to 21 and keeping local taxes high on tobacco and smoking products like e-cigarettes.
Nationally, the annual study swiped at the Trump administration, giving it failing grades for poor oversight by the Food and Drug Administration and for the low level of federal tobacco taxes. It gave the federal government a D in promoting treatments to quit smoking, but granted it an A for the continuing mass-media campaign to discourage smoking.
The report again cited the 78 percent increase in the use of e-cigarettes by teens, pointing out that “27.1 percent of high-school students used at least one tobacco product in 2018, up dramatically from 19.6 percent in 2017.”
“We know how to save lives — with the proven tobacco control policies called for in ‘State of Tobacco Control'," said association President Harold Wimmer. "This year's report finds a disturbing failure of the federal government and states to take action to prevent and reduce tobacco use in 2018, placing the health and lives of Americans at risk, including our youth.”