North Carolina smokers who are looking for a challenging and rewarding New Year’s resolution have the perfect one staring them in the face … and smoking up their eyes. And stinking up their breath. There’s no better time than the present to kick the habit. Your loved ones would thank you. So would your lungs and your heart.
The North Carolina legislature offers assistance to some small degree — but could and should do much more to encourage smokers to quit and prevent youth from using tobacco in the first place.
State spending on tobacco-prevention programs has gone up and down since the landmark 1998 Master Settlement Agreement between tobacco manufacturers and 46 state attorneys general, through which North Carolina receives hundreds of millions of dollars annually. That money should be invested in reimbursing the state for tobacco-related health-care costs — and for tobacco-prevention initiatives.
But over the years, the legislature has diverted much of that money toward the general fund and used it for other, unrelated purposes.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that North Carolina spend $99.3 million on tobacco-prevention initiatives annually, but the reality is pitifully short. The state gained $455.7 million related to tobacco excise taxes and its share of the Master Settlement Agreement in fiscal 2018-19, but only spent $2.2 million on tobacco-prevention initiatives that year, the Journal’s Richard Craver reported last week. That was actually a decline from the $2.8 million it spent in fiscal 2017-18.
That’s about 2.2% of the amount recommended by CDC.
“With youth vaping at an all-time high, we need states to pass proven tobacco control policies that save lives,” said Harold Wimmer, president and chief executive of the Amer-ican Lung Association.
“States continue to receive billions of dollars from tobacco settlement payments and tobacco taxes (a projected $27.2 billion in 2019-20), but are shortchanging vital programs that can help prevent and reduce youth tobacco, including e-cigarette use.”
That’s a travesty, especially in light of the rising popularity of vaping among teenagers, which is continually proving to be more dangerous than originally thought. In North Carolina, e-cig use among high school students has risen a staggering 894% between 2011 and 2017, according to the North Carolina Youth Tobacco Survey.
On Nov. 2, state House legislators considered a bipartisan amendment to a Senate bill that would have taxed vaping products at the same rate as traditional cigarettes — certainly a step in the right direction.
But the language was stripped from the bill later that day after legislators decided the timing wasn’t right.
How about now?
Despite the increase in vaping among teenagers, adult smoking is actually on the decline in the U.S. overall. It reached a historic low of 13.9% in 2017, according to the CDC, and is dropping. Thanks to effective anti-smoking efforts, it’s actually possible to imagine a smoke-free country.
But it’s going to take some serious determination — and money — to get us there.
In the meantime, President Trump signed federal legislation on Dec. 20 that will raise the minimum age for buying tobacco products from 18 to 21, a bold step for which he deserves praise. Currently, only 32 states have a 21-year-old minimum requirement, and North Carolina is not one of them.
For sure, North Carolina’s relationship with tobacco is complicated. Part of our economy still relies on the cash crop. But the more we learn about the dangers of tobacco and the addictive nature of nicotine — even the reduced amount found in e-cigs — the wiser the advice to never start smoking in the first place.
And the wiser it would be to make midnight, Dec. 31, 2019, the time to quit for good.