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2004-01-14 communities
State fails to make grade in tobacco control
LOUISVILLE — In the past year, the state of Kentucky once again failed to protect children and adults throughout the state from the disease and early death caused by tobacco use, says the American Lung Association's 2003 State of Tobacco Control report card.

For 2003, Kentucky again received an "F" in all four areas covered by this national tobacco control report card: tobacco prevention and control spending, youth access, cigarette taxes and smoke-free air. While Kentucky has made some progress in trying to protect people from secondhand smoke — notably, Lexington's passage of a smoke-free ordinance still in legal limbo and the ongoing Smoke-Free Louisville campaign — as the country's most tobacco-dependent state, Kentucky is still not doing enough to prevent or stop tobacco use, says this annual report card.

"This report card should be a call to action for everyone in Kentucky," said Barry Gottschalk, the American Lung Association of Kentucky's executive director. "This is too big an issue for any one person or group to tackle alone. If we're ever going to fix one of our state's most critical and costly health problems, parents and schools, legislators, health care providers, and everyone who cares about the health of our citizens must work together."

Tobacco use takes a heavy toll on Kentucky with 32.6 percent of adults in the state smoking. Of every 100,000 people in the state, 121 suffer from lung cancer due to smoking and 387 people die each year from a smoking-related cause. Smoking costs Kentucky more than $3 billion each year in health-care costs and lost productivity.

Two things the Lung Association will focus on during the 2004 General Assembly are increasing Kentucky's tobacco excise tax and fighting any bills designed to take away the power of communities to pass local laws restricting smoking in public places.

At 3 cents a pack, Kentucky's tobacco excise tax is the second lowest in the country. Kentucky's tobacco excise tax has not been raised in more than 30 years. The national average is currently 74 cents a pack. In recent months, groups such as the Kentucky chapter of AARP have pushed for increasing this tax to help Kentucky meet its growing budget deficit and Medicaid needs.

Mike Kuntz, the ALA of Kentucky's director of education and advocacy, says raising the cigarette excise tax would be good for Kentucky's economy while also reducing the number of children who start smoking and encouraging many adults to quit.

"The earlier a smoker starts, the more likely he or she is to die from tobacco use. Making it harder and more expensive for kids to get their hands on cigarettes is one of the best things we can do to reduce the number of our kids who smoke," said Kuntz.

Every day, 6,000 young people nationwide start smoking for the first time and close to 2,000 young people become established smokers. In Kentucky, 15.1 percent of middle school students and 34.6 percent of high school students smoke, giving us the highest youth smoking rates in the country.

The Lung Association is committed to making public places smoke-free because secondhand smoke from cigarettes causes or worsens a wide range of health problems. The ALA of Kentucky believes everyone should have the right to breathe smoke-free air, and that communities should have the power to make their own decisions about the types of laws that best meet their local needs.

The American Lung Association State of Tobacco Control 2003 report analyzes individual states' actions to combat the death and disease from tobacco, and assigns grades to those actions in four key policy areas. In the 40 years since the first U.S. Surgeon General's report linked smoking with lung cancer and other diseases, the nation has made many gains in tobacco control. But the fight is not over,

Overall, 38 states and the District of Columbia received an "F" in funding tobacco prevention, and control programs; 35 states and the District of Columbia received an "F" in smoke-free air laws; 13 states received "F"s in tobacco taxes; and 23 states received an "F" in laws limiting youth access to tobacco. On a positive note, 15 states throughout the country have received an "A" for their laws in at least one of the four categories analyzed. However, only five states—California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine and Rhode Island—achieved "A" grades in two areas and only New York received an "A" grade in three areas.

Those who would like to know more about what they can do to help support state laws and policies to protect everyone's health can visit the American Lung Association's website at The website includes information for sending a personalized letter to state leaders demanding tough measures to combat tobacco use and addiction.

In addition to advocacy efforts to help protect everyone's health the American Lung Association of Kentucky offers group clinics for those who want to quit smoking as well as other education programs to prevent children from starting to smoke. More information and copies of the American Lung Association State of Tobacco Control 2003 report card are available at

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