With vaping rates rising higher than any state in the nation and the adult smoking rate almost double the national average, we need to do far more in West Virginia to tackle tobacco use.
It is essential to prevent children from using dangerous tobacco products such as cigarettes and e-cigarettes. The nicotine in these products is addictive, can harm their developing brains and increases their risk for future addiction to other drugs.
As a former smoker, I know how hard it is to quit. Unfortunately, I have friends and family members with heart disease and cancer. These chronic diseases are heart-wrenching. But tobacco use is the number one cause of preventable diseases and death. That means we can do something to stop it and curb these diseases. It’s motivated me to take action, to stop smoking and to help prevent other youths from getting hooked.
I’m worried about the explosion of e-cigarette use by kids over the past few years. In West Virginia, 40.6% of high school students use tobacco. More than 1 in 3 use e-cigarettes. The fact that high school students who report frequent use of vaping products increased almost 440% should be a call to action. We need to do more.
There are two solutions that have shown to be the most effective when undertaken together. Significantly increasing the price of these products through taxes is one of the most effective ways to reduce and prevent tobacco use among youth and young adults. When combined with a well-funded, comprehensive tobacco control program, it delivers a powerful punch to tobacco use.
The Legislature will be considering the governor’s proposed $1.05 increase to the cigarette tax as well as substantial increases to the e-cigarette tax and other tobacco products. According to the National Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, this increase will decrease youth smoking by 10.1%, prevent 4,900 youth from becoming adult smokers and cause 10,100 adult smokers to quit.
At the same time, this tax would generate more than $78 million in new revenue. At least a portion of this should go to West Virginia’s tobacco control program to prevent youth from smoking and help smokers quit. The program’s funding has been decimated in recent years to only $450,000. Compared to the $103 million spent by the industry on marketing each year in West Virginia, it’s hard to compete. The winner is Big Tobacco, and the losers are our kids, addicted smokers and the state budget. This is because smoking costs over $1 billion annually in West Virginia, including $277.3 million in Medicaid costs.
The Coalition for a Tobacco Free West Virginia is calling on the Legislature to provide $5.6 million in funding to the program. This seems like a wise investment to me.
Tobacco taxes can provide us with a substantial and reliable source of new revenue during this critical time as we grapple with pandemic recovery and other funding priorities and protect the health of our kids at the same time. If we invest a portion of this revenue in tobacco prevention and cessation programs — which, when adequately funded, substantially reduce tobacco use — we can save lives, reduce tobacco-related costs and create a healthier future for us all.