Rhode Island gets failing grades on tobacco report card

Rhode Island got two F’s on its annual report card from the American Lung Association as it relates to preventing and reducing tobacco use.

The report shows that despite a revenue stream of $195 million from tobacco, the state’s tobacco prevention program in fiscal year 2019 only received $390,000. The program is designed to give smokers resources to quit the habit and educate youth about the dangers of smoking.

Amber Pelletier is with the American Lung Association and said that teen tobacco use spiked 78% between 2017 and 2018, and in Rhode Island around one in four high schoolers admit to using tobacco.

“I think there are some things we’re doing great here and then there are some things that could really use some work,” Pelletier said.

With youth tobacco rates continuing to rise from e-cigarette use, she said the association is turning its focus on teen use. But with an underfunded program, it’s an uphill battle.

“The tobacco industry is really targeting our youth with their flavors, with the sleekness of their products [and] with the design of their products,” she said.

A similar sentiment comes from Robert Dulski with the American Cancer Society. He said that for every dollar Rhode Island spends on battling tobacco use, tobacco companies are spending an average of $70.

“I believe it is immoral what we are doing,” Dulski said.

Dulski said Rhode Island is near the bottom when it comes to fighting tobacco use, and by cutting funding, it’s actually costing the state even more.

“In Rhode Island, we are spending about $640 million a year on tobacco-related illnesses,” Dulski said. “The state spends nearly $220 million a year through the state Medicaid program for tobacco-related illness.”

Rhode Island also got an F for its legal age of tobacco purchase, currently sitting at 18. Raising the minimum age to 21 is the recommendation from the American Lung Association.

However, the Ocean state got an A when it came to limiting smoking in public.

If you are looking to access state resources you can call 1-800-QUIT-NOW.