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Need for Tobacco Control Grows Across the State

March 24, 2023

If it were high school, the report card on state tobacco control efforts would mean summer school.

Two Fs, a C and two Bs.

The American Lung Association’s annual grades were scorching for Connecticut, and lung cancer specialist Brian Whang, MD, of the Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute in Bridgeport, is discouraged but has ideas on how we can do better.

What the failing grades mean

“I was disappointed in how poorly the state is doing in terms of funding for tobacco prevention and cessation, as well as in the availability of flavored tobacco products,” he says. “Nearly 1 in 3 kids in Connecticut high schools use tobacco products, including vaping, so we can expect that many future lung cancer patients are still being made.

“We need to do better.”

Connecticut received Fs in the categories “tobacco prevention and cessation funding” and regulating “flavored tobacco products.”

The reason? The state has no regulations on flavored tobacco and only added funding for tobacco control programs to the budget this fiscal year, despite cashing in on more than $455 million in tobacco revenue annually.

“What’s encouraging is that there is mindful effort, as a whole, in addressing all these measures,” Dr. Whang notes. “The lower grades seem to reflect that influencing them might be more complicated.”

The Lung Association also looks at: how well states keep air in public places smoke-free, giving Connecticut a B; tax levied on tobacco products, earning the state another B; and access to cessation services, which received a C since barriers exist and state investment in a cessation line is far below average.

How important are these measures for lowering rates of lung cancer?

The U.S. has seen the rates of lung cancer drop as people quit smoking and others fail to start, but Dr. Whang says there are still more than 200,000 new cases each year.

“Lung cancer is far and away the leading cause of cancer-related deaths, but these numbers are also edging lower,” he explains. “We now have better therapies and screening for early detection, but the decrease in number of smokers has a lot to do with it as well.”

To help, the Lung Association calls for three actions by Connecticut legislators:

  • Protect and increase funding for tobacco prevention and cessation programs. State spending, new this year, is less than half of what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend, Dr. Whang adds. “Smoking costs more than $2 trillion a year in healthcare-related expenses in the State of Connecticut. While I applaud the recent initiative, it is still out of proportion to the investment that is needed,” he says.
  • Defend the state’s indoor air laws protecting residents from secondhand smoke.
  • Pursue tax parity among all tobacco products.

“These measures reflect the highest potential yield for targeted intervention,” Dr. Whang says. “Inhaled tobacco is the leading cause of lung cancer. By looking at efforts to prevent exposure to tobacco, namely quitting smoking, we have a pretty good marker for how successful we will be at curbing the downstream effects.”

He calls for “more creative legislation” like a current bill to expand the state’s program for breast and cervical cancer screening to include lung cancer screening.

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