The Fayette Tribune, Oak Hill, W.Va.

January 30, 2013

Editorial: Failing grades

American Lung Association gives state Fs for tobacco control

— In a report released recently, the state of West Virginia received straight Fs in the American Lung Association’s annual State of Tobacco Control for 2013.

The report examined each state’s progress in tobacco control policies. It also assigned grades based on whether the state’s laws are adequately protecting citizens from the toll tobacco use takes on lives and the economy.

The 11th annual report gave West Virginia an F in each of the following categories:

-- Funding for tobacco prevention and control programs

-- Smoke-free air

--Cigarette taxes

-- Cessation coverage

This is an incredibly troubling report in many aspects.

According to the American Lung Association, tobacco causes an estimated 3,821 deaths in West Virginia each year.

The ALA also states tobacco costs the state’s economy $1.7 billion in health care costs and lost productivity.

Just over 28 percent of our state’s adults are smokers, the second highest rate in the nation. About 19 percent of high school students and 8 percent of middle school students light up, illegally of course.

Wiping out nearly 4,000 of our neighbors and loved ones, and we’re still OK with that?

And in these tough economic times, we write off almost $2 billion like it’s nothing?

Unlike many of society’s ills, it seems that saving these lives and this tremendous amount of money could be accomplished with more effort.

Just like in school, getting an F is not demonstrating any effort.

There are some successful programs going, but we must do more to change the culture that accepts poor health — even death — for the sake of lighting up a cigarette.

In the United States, an estimated 443,000 people die from tobacco-related illness and secondhand smoke exposure each year.

Locally, it seems we’re making strides.

The report graded individual counties on regulations restricting smoking, and fortunately several area counties fared much better than the state as a whole.

Greenbrier was one of just 20 counties in the state to earn an A, meaning that smoking is prohibited in almost all public places and workplaces.

Raleigh, Fayette, Monroe and Nicholas counties earned Bs.

Summers, McDowell, and Mercer counties each earned Cs.

The report further stated West Virginia receives $231 million in tobacco-related revenue annually and invests only 28 percent of what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends should be spent on tobacco prevention and cessation programs.

A $231 million revenue and a $1.7 billion loss?

That’s a real loser in the investment world.

We can’t continue to be OK with watching our fellow West Virginians suffer severe health problems and succumb to their habits.

Adults need to quit smoking. Children must be prevented from starting.

Getting through to our youngest generation before habits can be established is vital.

For our state’s future — health-wise and economy-wise.