Jan. 30 (UPI) -- Despite the fact that tobacco is the nation's leading cause of preventable disease, the federal government has failed to prevent the problem, a new report says.
About 27 percent of high school students in 2018 used tobacco products, up from 19.6 percent from 2017, according to research published Wednesday by the American Heart Association. Tobacco use claims an estimated 480,000 lives each year.
"We know how to save lives -- with the proven tobacco control policies called for in 'State of Tobacco Control'," Harold P. Wimmer, President and CEO of the American Lung Association National, said in a news release. "This year's report finds a disturbing failure of the federal government and states to take action to prevent and reduce tobacco use in 2018, placing the health and lives of Americans at risk, including our youth."
The "State of Tobacco Control" 2019 report notes the lack of effort by both the federal governments, as well as states, in a variety of areas, from properly funding state tobacco prevention programs -- 43 states and Washington, D.C., were graded with an "F" -- to the failure of many states to strengthen smokefree workplace laws, increase tobacco taxes, offer greater access to services to help people quit smoking and most states failed to increase the minimum age of sale for tobacco products.
Researchers report that 40 states didn't raise the minimum age of sale for tobacco products to 21. California, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Oregon, Hawaii and Maine have raised their tobacco buying age to 21. Locally, more than 350 cities and towns, including New York City and Washington, D.C., have raised their age requirements, as well.
"The reality is that for decades the tobacco industry lied about their addictive and deadly products, hooking kids and adults alike for life," Wimmer said in November on the 20th anniversary of the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement. "The settlement funds have the potential to serve as a lifeline for the millions of Americans now living with a tobacco-related disease, and it's really up to the will of our representatives to do the right thing and implement and fully fund proven tobacco control programs."
The settlement marked the largest civil court settlement in U.S. history. In fiscal 2019, states have received $27.3 billion in funds from the agreement, yet none of the money has gone to tobacco prevention programs in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
The CDC recommends that states "establish tobacco control programs that are comprehensive, sustainable, and accountable and include state and community interventions, public education interventions, cessation programs, surveillance and evaluation and administration and management."
"States must summon the political will to use these tobacco settlement payments and revenue from tobacco taxes to adequately fund tobacco control efforts, and pass smoke-free workplace laws, Tobacco 21 laws and large tobacco tax increases to reduce tobacco use among youth and adults," Wimmer said. "The health of our children is on the line -- the time for half measures is over."