Report: Vt. smoking cessation funding falls short

Published: Feb. 6, 2023 at 3:55 PM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont’s efforts to take aim at smoking just isn’t cutting it, according to a new report from the American Lung Association. Now. health experts and state officials say they’re trying to improve their approach.

The American Lung Association says tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the U.S., taking the lives of almost 1,000 Vermonters every year. and with data showing an increase in nicotine use -- it’s a problem they say won’t get any better without intervention

“We had the largest increase in tobacco use just a couple years ago with vaping up to 28%, unfortunately, in our most recent adult data. We do see a 2% increase in smoking -- that’s something for us to talk about,” said Rhonda Williams, the tobacco control program chief with the Vermont Department of Health.

Burlington’s Chad Alspaugh is among those who say he can’t quit cigarettes. “I’m holding one and I want you to use this to show it’s an addiction,” he said. “It’s hard to quit nicotine -- it’s an addiction. It says it on the packets and it can cause lung cancer, it can cause anything. We all know that” Alspaugh said with a shrug.

It’s this highly addictive nature of the product that led the American Lung Association to create its State of Tobacco Control 2023 report, which evaluates what states are doing to eliminate tobacco use. Vermont received the following grades in the report:

While the state excels in areas of providing quitting services, smoke-free workplaces, and tobacco taxes, the report says it’s failing when it comes to funding for prevention programs and ending the sale of flavored tobacco products.

“That’s a huge area that Vermont needs to address if it really looks to curb smoking use in its state, because you’re basically cultivating a new generation of smokers,” said the ALA’s Trevor Summerfield.

“There’s a lot of competing priorities in Vermont and yet 18% of all deaths past age 35 are associated with tobacco,” Williams said. “Investment has fallen, prevention and treatment would benefit from more.”

Some lawmakers say ending the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including menthol, will help address the disproportionate impact the products have on many marginalized communities and youth.

“Flavors, including menthol for tobacco, have been very much targeted towards our African-American communities as well as LGBTQ. The result is, we see a higher rate of smoking and addiction in those groups,” said Sen. Ginny Lyons, D- Chittenden County. “We don’t want to see a loss of attention given to tobacco. The bill that we have will allow for us to look at the long-term effects of nicotine addiction of smoking or vaping. So, we’ll be looking at the funding for tobacco, in particular for kids in school or for others who wish to quit. It’s on our radar. It’s on our agenda.”

Lyons says they hope to get the new legislation passed this year.

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