The U.S. government took major steps toward curbing tobacco use in 2009 but still needs to do more to fight tobacco-related illnesses that kill hundreds of thousands of Americans every year, the American Lung Association said on Tuesday.
The federal government earned a grade of "A" for giving the Food and Drug Administration power to regulate tobacco, including how companies market, manufacture and sell tobacco products, the advocacy group said in its annual report card on tobacco control.
The American Lung Association was a long-time advocate of granting FDA authority over tobacco. U.S. President Barack Obama signed the FDA tobacco legislation into law in June.
The group also gave credit to the U.S. Congress for more than doubling the federal cigarette tax last year, from 39 cents to $1.01 per pack. But it said that still falls below the average state cigarette tax of $2.68 per pack.
Health experts say increasing cigarette taxes can encourage smokers to quit and may discourage teens from starting.
Cigarette smoking causes lung cancer, heart attacks, strokes, emphysema and other diseases. It is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, killing an estimated 443,000 people each according to year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Smoking costs the U.S. economy more than $193 billion each year in health care costs and lost productivity, the CDC said.
'HELP PEOPLE QUIT'
"If we do not put in place the policies to curb the epidemic and to help people quit, we will continue to bear an incredible burden of death and disease caused by tobacco," American Lung Association Vice President Paul Billings said in a telephone interview.
The report said the U.S. government has failed to help smokers quit by not requiring coverage for cessation treatments under the Medicare health insurance program for the elderly and disabled and the Medicaid insurance program for the poor.
Billings said the lung association is encouraged by healthcare reform proposals that would expand public and private insurance coverage of treatments to help smokers quit.
The group's annual report grades the federal and state governments on cigarette taxes, laws banning smoking in the workplace and elsewhere, tobacco prevention and control efforts, and programs to help smokers quit.
None of the 50 U.S. states excelled in all areas, according to the report. Alabama, Kentucky, Missouri, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia received all failing marks.
Fourteen states and Washington, D.C. raised cigarette taxes in 2009. Ten states and Washington, D.C. also sharply reduced funding for tobacco control and prevention programs, it said.
"That's a troubling trend," Billings said. "For a few extra pennies per pack, they can fully fund these programs."