American Lung Association Gives Arizona Failing Grades in Tobacco Control Report

In its state rankings, the American Lung Association gave Arizona a failing grade on tobacco prevention and cessation funding.
In its state rankings, the American Lung Association gave Arizona a failing grade on tobacco prevention and cessation funding. Sarah Johnson
Arizona isn't making the grade when it comes to helping residents stay away from tobacco, according to a new report out this week.

The nonprofit American Lung Association's annual State of Tobacco Control report, released on Wednesday,  issued letter grades to states based on how well their policies curb tobacco use — and Arizona got an F in three out of five categories.

Though Arizona's stringent restrictions on smoking in workplaces and indoor areas earned the state an A in smoke-free air, it ranked decidedly lower in other categories.

The Grand Canyon State got a C average for access to cessation services, and failing grades in categories for tobacco taxes and age restrictions on tobacco. Though the federal government raised the smoking age nationwide to 21 in December, Arizona's attorney general has implied the state isn't enforcing that law yet.

Arizona also got an F on funding for tobacco prevention and cessation services. The state currently spends just under $17 million annually on such programs, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests it should be spending three times more, the report said.

Meanwhile, the state takes in more than $417 million in tobacco-related revenue annually, according to the report.

The ALA recommends that Arizona boosts its prevention funding, increase state tobacco taxes by at least $1 per pack of cigarettes, and pass statewide retail licensing of tobacco products. Arizona is one of just 13 states without this type of regulation on the tobacco industry, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

The association's report also highlighted the rise of vaping, especially among young people, as an area of concern.

“In Arizona, our tobacco use rate remains at 20.1 percent," said JoAnna Strother, advocacy senior director for the ALA in Arizona, in a statement. "Sadly, with the youth vaping epidemic still rising, we may have lost an opportunity to make the current generation of kids the first tobacco-free generation."

Over 8,200 Arizonans died in 2018 because of smoking, the report said. Tobacco is still the leading cause of preventable death and disease both in Arizona and nationwide.

Though fewer adults in Arizona are smoking this year than last year, high schoolers are using tobacco products at about the same rate of roughly 21.5 percent.

A large chunk of that 21.5 percent is attributed to vaping, which the state has identified as a threat to teenagers' health. Attorney General Mark Brnovich sued vape companies JUUL and Eonsmoke in early January for false advertising that targeted a young audience.

Vape industry leaders argue their products are valuable for smokers who want to quit harmful cigarettes. JUUL has said it stopped accepting orders for flavored pods, suspended advertising, and refrained from lobbying the federal government on flavored vape products in response to criticism about underage use.

Arizona isn't the only state that isn't up to snuff on tobacco programs, according to the ALA. All but eight states got F grades for their tobacco prevention and cessation funding.

The association also criticized the federal government for its relatively lax regulation and low taxes on tobacco products.

“While the American Lung Association recognizes the federal government with an A grade for passage of a strong federal Tobacco 21 law, it also earns an F for its failure to comprehensively oversee tobacco products," ALA President Harold Wimmer said in a statement. "Without meaningful actions by the federal government, the health and the future of our nation’s children are being compromised.”
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Ali Swenson was an editorial fellow for Phoenix New Times starting in 2019.