West Virginia made no progress this past year in reducing tobacco-caused death and disease, according to the American Lung Association’s “State of Tobacco Control 2014” report. Less than a week after the release of the new Surgeon General’s report on smoking and health, which warns that 5.6 million of today’s youth will die from tobacco use unless action is taken, the Lung Association’s “State of Tobacco Control 2014” issues an urgent call to action to policymakers across the country to reverse their present course and commit to eliminating tobacco-caused death and disease.

The Lung Association’s 12th annual “State of Tobacco Control” report tracks yearly 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 toll tobacco use takes on lives and the economy.  The 2014 report highlights the 50th anniversary of the historic 1964 Surgeon General’s report that linked smoking to lung cancer and other diseases for the first time.

West Virginia received the following grades for 2013: F in Funding for Tobacco Prevention and Control Programs; F in Smokefree Air; F in Cigarette Tax; F in Cessation Coverage

Tobacco causes an estimated 3,821 deaths in West Virginia annually and costs the state’s economy $1,727,637,000 in healthcare and lost productivity, a tremendous burden that West Virginia can ill afford.

Priorities that must be addressed to improve West Virginia’s “State of Tobacco Control” grades in 2014 include:

Increasing tobacco prevention and control program funding. The Lung Association worked hard to get a $5.26 million budget for tobacco cessation and education programming in fiscal year 2014.  This is a slight decrease from $5.65 million in fiscal year 2013.

Increasing the excise tax on cigarettes and establishing clean indoor air regulations at the local level.  Identical bills were introduced in the West Virginia State Senate and House of Delegates to increase West Virginia’s cigarette excise tax by $1 per pack with some proceeds directed to tobacco control and other health-related programs.  Despite overwhelming public support, neither tax bill was passed.

Prohibiting smoking in all public places and work places. The Lung Association’s local and statewide coalitions have been making steady progress through the enactment of county-level clean indoor air regulations and the use of prevention and cessation funding.  All 55 counties have secondhand smoke regulations in place, and 20 of those counties prohibit smoking in virtually all public places and workplaces.

“The following have been proven to reduce tobacco use: smokefree workplace laws; high tobacco taxes; funding of tobacco prevention and quit-smoking programs; and insurance coverage for quit-smoking treatments.   All that is missing in West Virginia is the political will from our elected officials,” said Brown.

There is some good news:  “The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources Division of Tobacco Prevention has found that the rate of teen smoking in our state has dropped dramatically in recent years,” says Jay Wildt, leadership board chair for the American Lung Association in West Virginia. “So a number of our teens are not smoking. But how can we say this is an accomplishment when these young people are still surrounded by adult smokers and the unclean air that follows them?”

West Virginia County Smokefree Regulation Grades

In addition to grading the state, the American Lung Association in West Virginia has evaluated regulations restricting smoking in all 55 West Virginia counties and assigned them letter grades from A to F based on the strength of the regulation.  The counties and grades are displayed in the chart below.

Twenty-two counties earned A grades, 17 earned B grades, 10 earned C grades and the remaining 6 counties earned F grades. Clay County earned a B.

An “A” grade means smoking is prohibited in virtually all public places and workplaces, and an “F” grade means protections from secondhand smoke are inadequate or non-existent.

West Virginia’s statewide law received an “F” grade in the American Lung Association’s 2014 State of Tobacco Control report.