U.S. leaders took meaningful steps to reduce smoking over the past year, increasing treatment options and giving the U.S. Food and Drug Administration new power to regulate tobacco, a major health group said Thursday.
States, on the other hand, "failed miserably" at protecting citizens from the burden of tobacco use, according to the American Lung Association, which issued its annual report card on U.S. tobacco control efforts.
"President (Barack) Obama and our leaders in the 111th Congress enacted what will be regarded as the strongest tobacco control policies thus far in American history," Charles Connor, president and chief executive of the American Lung Association, said in a statement.
"While we still have a long way to go, for the first time, the administration and the Congress joined forces to squarely confront the tobacco epidemic."
Obama's landmark healthcare reform plan, symbolically repealed late on Wednesday by the Republican-led House of Representatives, expands access to tobacco cessation treatments, which would be covered by most private health plans in the United States.
But Connor said states are "failing miserably" at combating tobacco-caused disease.
"Despite collecting millions of dollars — and in some cases billions — in tobacco settlement dollars and excise taxes, most states are investing only pennies on the dollar to help smokers quit," he said.
The group praised work by the FDA to begin implementing tobacco control legislation, but wanted tougher action on marketing tactics being used by the tobacco industry, including the use of color-coded packaging to suggest their products are less harmful.
The American Lung Association praised the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' move to make smoking prevention and cessation efforts key elements of the government's health and wellness plans.
In contrast to progress on the federal level, states lagged well behind, with Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia getting failing marks.
And while no state got high marks, Arkansas, Montana, Maine, Oklahoma and Vermont did the best job at providing support to smokers trying to kick the habit, the group said.
The American Lung Association said states continue to raise taxes on cigarettes, but many fail to invest that money in smoking cessation programs.
"Most states are ducking the responsibility to help smokers quit," Connor said.
Each year, 443,000 people die from tobacco-related illnesses and secondhand smoke exposure, making tobacco the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Smoking costs more than $193 billion a year in health costs and lost productivity.
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