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New Report: South Carolina Receives Mostly Failing Grades for Tobacco Control

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Today, the American Lung Association released the 19th annual “State of Tobacco Control” report, which reveals that South Carolina received mostly failing grades for its efforts to reduce and prevent tobacco use, including e-cigarettes. This year’s report grades federal and state efforts to reduce tobacco use and calls for meaningful policies that will prevent and reduce tobacco use and save lives.

Even amid the pandemic, tobacco use remains a serious public health threat. Tobacco use is the nation’s leading cause of preventable death and disease, taking an estimated 480,000 lives every year. In addition to tobacco-related death and disease, cigarette smokers are at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19, making ending tobacco use more important than ever. Cigarette smoking compromises the immune system, is linked to lung inflammation and puts people at greater risk for pulmonary infection. Also, smoking harms the airway lining cells that contain cilia, which are our essential defenders against viruses like COVID-19. Without them working properly, lungs are more vulnerable.

This year’s report recommends South Carolina establish retail tobacco licensing for all tobacco product sellers, including electronic cigarette sellers. Without a comprehensive tobacco retail license program, the state cannot effectively enforce, educate, monitor or penalize illegal sales of tobacco products, such as sales of vaping products to minors. The need for South Carolina to take action to protect youth from all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, is more urgent than ever, with the youth vaping epidemic continuing. With 1 in 5 teens vaping, our children are becoming the next generation addicted to tobacco. Youth vaping and tobacco use overall is largely driven by flavored tobacco products, and our report has added a new state grade calling for policies to end the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes, flavored e-cigarettes and flavored cigars.

“Most concerning is newly proposed legislation to prevent local communities from passing policies to protect kids from tobacco. We oppose language in H.3681 that would prohibit local communities from passing important laws on tobacco and vaping product sales, licensing and the like, that are stronger than state law. Local control over matters designed to protect the public’s health has numerous benefits that are lost when local power is preempted,” said June Deen, director of advocacy for the Lung Association. “In South Carolina, our adult smoking rates remain at 17.5% and 21% of high school students use e-cigarettes. It is more important than ever for South Carolina’s local communities to be able to implement proven policies to prevent and reduce tobacco use.”

The report finds that elected officials should do more to save lives and ensure all residents benefit from reductions in tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke. The report also explores the fact that tobacco use and secondhand smoke exposure disproportionately impacts certain communities, including communities of color, LGBTQ+ Americans and persons of lower income, and outlines solutions to close this gap.

South Carolina’s Grades

“State of Tobacco Control” 2021 grades states and the District of Columbia in five areas that have been proven to prevent and reduce tobacco use. South Carolina received the following grades:

  1. Funding for State Tobacco Prevention Programs – Grade F
  2. Strength of Smokefree Workplace Laws – Grade F
  3. Level of State Tobacco Taxes – Grade F
  4. Coverage and Access to Services to Quit Tobacco – Grade B
  5. NEW! Ending the Sale of All Flavored Tobacco Products   – Grade F

The Lung Association encourages South Carolina to put in place all the public policies called for in “State of Tobacco Control.” This year’s report encouraged the implementation of a comprehensive tobacco retail license program to aid in reducing youth access to tobacco products. Currently, South Carolina does not require tobacco and e-cigarette retailers to obtain a tobacco retail license.

Federal Grades Overview

“State of Tobacco Control” 2021 also grades the federal government in five areas:

  • Federal Government Regulation of Tobacco Products (2021 grade – D)
  • Federal Coverage of Quit Smoking Treatments (2021 grade – D)
  • Level of Federal Tobacco Taxes (2021 grade – F)
  • Federal Mass Media Campaigns to Prevent and Reduce Tobacco Use (2021 grade – A)
  • Federal Minimum Age of Sale for Tobacco Products to 21 (2021 grade – A)

“’State of Tobacco Control’ 2021 provides an important roadmap on how states like South Carolina and the federal government can put in place the policies proven to have the greatest impact on reducing tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke. We urge South Carolina lawmakers to take this opportunity to make lasting reductions in tobacco-related death and disease,” said Deen.

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