American Lung Association report card gives Arizona F’s on tobacco control policies

The American Lung Association gave Arizona three failing grades on its tobacco control policies in the organization’s annual State of Tobacco Control report. (File photo by Logan Camden/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – The American Lung Association released its grades of Arizona tobacco control policies Wednesday in its annual State of Tobacco Control report. The association grades states on policies that aim to eliminate tobacco use – and Arizona received three F grades.

“Tobacco use is the leading cause of death in Arizona and across the country, taking the lives of 8,250 Arizona residents each year,” JoAnna Strother said in a statement. Strother is the senior director of advocacy at the American Lung Association in Arizona. “The tobacco industry will do anything to protect their profits at the expense of Arizona lives, so we must push forward in our efforts to prevent and reduce tobacco use.”

The report graded Arizona in five areas that have been proven to prevent and reduce tobacco use:

  • Funding for state tobacco prevention programs: F
  • Strength of smoke free workplace laws: B
  • Level of state tobacco taxes: F
  • Coverage and access to services to quit tobacco: C
  • Ending the sale of all flavored tobacco products: F

“When we increase the price of tobacco products, it helps adults to quit smoking, but drives down smoking,” Strother said of tobacco taxes in a phone interview. “It helps the youth to not start smoking or initiate using tobacco products, then it creates revenue for the state.

“We call that a win-win-win for public health. So raising tobacco taxes here in Arizona for the first time in almost a decade would improve that grade,” she said.

Strother said dedicating more funds from tobacco taxes toward tobacco prevention and programing would also help.

According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids advocacy group, as of 2023, 3.4% of high school students smoked in Arizona – higher than the national average of 1.9% – and 17.2% used electronic cigarettes, compared to 10% nationwide. The same report said 12.7% of adults in the state smoked, and 26.1% of cancer deaths were attributed to smoking.

“This year, we are working with state policymakers to focus on creating a tobacco retailer licensing system in order to stop retailers who continuously sell to those under the age,” Strother said in a statement. “Arizona is one of a handful of states without a tobacco retail license, making it impossible to track where tobacco is being sold, and leaves the state without effective tools to hold retailers accountable for illegal sales to those under the age of sale.”

Strother said the tobacco industry is making sure their products are appealing to kids through flavored products and campaigns saying they are healthier.

Flavored tobacco products are seen as a gateway for youth who are smoking. The lung association aims to get flavored tobacco products removed from the shelves, including menthol products. Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes last week urged the Biden administration to prohibit the sale of menthol cigarettes and cigars.

“The prohibition of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars is essential to combatting their significant and well-documented health risks,” Mayes said in a statement. “These products, particularly menthol cigarettes, have been shown to initiate tobacco use and contribute to addiction, especially among younger populations.”

The Arizona Department of Health Services in 2022 released the Arizona Tobacco Control Program, a five-year plan that aims to make the state free of commercial tobacco use.

The program’s strategic plan aims to reduce disparities related to commercial tobacco use, amplify youth voices, collaborate with stakeholders, raise awareness and build a comprehensive tobacco control program.

Huston Dunston Jr.(he/him/his)
News Reporter, Phoenix

Huston Dunston Jr. expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Dunston has interned for Sports Radio America and RaveonSports and has worked on producing social media content and publishing stories for other companies.