Since 1663, tobacco has been a thriving industry in North Carolina. The sandy soil found in the Carolinas is perfect for harvesting a bountiful tobacco crop and it didn’t take long for farmers to start cashing in on this popular business. Even in 2014, tobacco is still an important part of the agricultural industry in North Carolina. While raising tobacco might be good for local economics, the American Lung Association believes that the state is failing miserably in tobacco control for public health. In fact, they recently gave the state an “F” rating.
David Willard is the coordinator for Northwest Tobacco Prevention and he recently spoke out about what led to the failing grade. He primarily blamed the score on the high rate of adult smokers residing in the NC mountains, specifically Ashe County. In this particular region, around 24 percent of adults are still smokers. That is well above the national average and it’s also much higher than averages across the rest of North Carolina.
Willard also blamed the failing grade on the increasing popularity of electronic cigarettes statewide. He explained that e-cigs were appealing to youth and acting as a gateway leading to increasing numbers of smokers. “The real concern with these is that they come in all flavors, which appeals to youth. The electronic cigarette may also be seen as a gateway to begin smoking traditional cigarettes, since they still contain the addictive component of cigarettes (nicotine).” His argument is very familiar to those that follow e-cig news regularly. However, science has debunked these theories showing that e-cigs are in fact not a gateway to increased tobacco use. In reality, they are just the opposite. In most cases, e-cigs assist current smokers to meet their goals to quit smoking.
Blaming e-cigarettes for North Carolina’s low rating is really a cop out. The American Lung Association gives no consideration to e-cigs when determining how a state is scored. Instead, they focus on smoking regulations and prohibitions as well as government efforts to quell tobacco use. The actual percentage of state smokers (or vapers) has nothing to do with the scores.
Willard also mentioned that the American Lung Association cracked down on North Carolina because of the low tobacco tax. While the national average is $1.53 per pack, many states tax much higher with New York holding the highest rate at $4.35 per pack. North Carolina’s tobacco tax is among the smallest in the nation at only 45 cent per pack.
Ultimately, the failing grade was based on the lack of statewide efforts to reduce tobacco use. The only way the state score will improve is through higher taxes and an increase in government programs to promote smoking cessation. When Willard blamed e-cigarettes for the low score, it showed his own ignorance to the actual science behind vaping. Electronic cigarettes are not tobacco products and they have no impact on how the American Lung Association determines a state’s tobacco scores.
Do you think Willard was out of line to blame e-cigarettes? What steps do you expect North Carolina to take in 2014 to improve tobacco control efforts?