State earns straight A’s for fighting smoking

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AUGUSTA – For the second year in a row, Maine is the only state in the country to receive straight A’s for its anti-smoking efforts.

The American Lung Association grades states in four areas: spending on tobacco prevention, smoke-free workplaces, high taxes on cigarettes and reducing access for minors. It released the annual report Tuesday at the State House.

In all four areas, Maine received the highest grade. Other New England states did not fare as well. With the exception of Vermont, all the others received at least one F, and New Hampshire received two. None of the other states received more than two A’s.

“We know that these efforts work because Maine has had tremendous success since 1997 when we had the dubious distinction of having one the highest youth smoking rates in the country,” said Vickie Purgavie, the board chairwoman for the American Lung Association of Maine.

Since 1997, youth smoking in Maine has declined 60 percent and adult smoking rates have declined 21 percent, Purgavie said.

Anti-smoking advocates bragged on Maine’s leadership in reducing smoking during a Tuesday State House news conference releasing the report card.

“The American Lung Association is so proud of what Maine has done and the leadership that Maine has demonstrated,” said Dr. Lee Ann Baggott, an Augusta pulmonologist and national board member of the American Lung Association. “Much of Maine’s success is due to the coordination of so many concerned citizens, lawmakers, health care organizations, health care providers and others who are tired of the burden of tobacco use.”

As part of his proposed budget for 2008-09, Gov. John Baldacci, who was honored Tuesday at the event, has asked the Legislature to approve a $1 increase in the state’s tax on cigarettes, which would make Maine’s levy the highest in the country. The tax would total $3 per pack if the increase is passed.

According to the American Lung Association, Rhode Island currently has the highest tax in the country at $2.46 per pack.

“If we were actually going to assess a tax on cigarettes to the actual costs of health care in the state of Maine and Medicaid program it would be $11.61 a pack,” Baldacci said. “That’s not to say anything about the lives lost.”

Among other distinctions, Maine is one of just a few states to fund its tobacco prevention and control program about the minimum level recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to the Lung Association, tobacco companies spend about $74 million a year in Maine, up 108 percent since 1998. Much of that spending, the group said, is used to market toward young adults.

“Everyday we are facing relentless efforts from the tobacco industry to try to promote their products to us,” said Peter Royal, a student from Ellsworth High School who participated in the event. “They use various strategies to manipulate us into buying a very deadly product. So we need to be just as diligent as they are in reversing the effect.”

Grading New England

The American Lung Association completes a report card every year on the progress states are making in reducing the effects of smoking on their population. Maine is the only state to ever receive straight A’s, and earned the honor for the second time Tuesday.

New England states Tobacco prevention Smoke-free air Cigarette tax Youth access

Connecticut F B B B

Maine A A A A

Massachusetts F A B C

New Hampshire F F D C

Rhode Island F A A B

Vermont B A B A

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