Lung association chides states on tobacco laws
NEW YORK, Feb 29 (Reuters Health) -- Despite extracting money from the pockets of Big Tobacco, states enacted few new laws last year to curb tobacco use, and some states actually watered down existing laws, the American Lung Association charges in a new r
In a statement released with the report on Tuesday, the Lung Association takes states to task for failing to seize the moment and pass new laws to reduce the toll of tobacco-related disease. The association bases its comments on new survey data documenting a dearth of new tobacco control laws.
``States missed a tremendous opportunity to fight against Big Tobacco,'' said John R. Garrison, the Lung Association's chief executive officer.
The survey also shows what the association calls a ``very disturbing trend'' toward the passage of laws penalizing minors for possession of tobacco products. Such laws shift the blame to children, ``the victims of industry marketing ploys,'' the association contends. At the same time, it says, states are relaxing laws aimed at retailers. The association singles out Arkansas and Indiana for watering down penalties for selling tobacco to minors.
``This is an outrage. States should be redoubling, not rolling back, their efforts to keep tobacco products out of the hands of children,'' Garrison said.
While unfamiliar with the Lung Association's survey, Lee Dixon, director of the Health Policy Tracking Service at the National Conference of State Legislatures, told Reuters Health that much of states' inaction on the tobacco issue was related to the federal government's attempt to recoup tobacco settlement dollars. That issue, he explained, was not resolved until May 1999, when Congress passed legislation waiving the federal government's claim to a portion of states' settlement proceeds with major tobacco companies.
By that time, many state legislatures were out of session or unable to introduce new bills, Dixon said. However, many states used the June-to-November 1999 period to conduct public hearings and set up task forces and commissions to look at how best to use the tobacco dollars, he said.
``As 1999 ended, only 23 states had enacted any legislation with regard to how to use the settlement dollars,'' Dixon noted. But the issue is at the forefront of many state agendas this year. ``Now that the 2000 legislative sessions are in, there is legislation pending in 44 of the state legislatures, and there happen to be 44 in session this year, on using the dollars for tobacco prevention,'' he said.
The American Lung Association report, titled 1999 State Legislated Action on Tobacco Issues, does credit a handful of states for their efforts last year. New York, for example, raised its cigarette excise tax by 55 cents to $1.11 per pack -- the highest cigarette tax in the nation. And in Maine, lawmakers adopted a clean indoor air law banning smoking in restaurants, it said.