State receives failing grade

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

I have lived in Missouri my entire life. I love the rolling hills of the Ozarks, the friendly suburbs that skirt Kansas City, the tranquil communities that surround the college campuses in Warrensburg and Columbia and the bustling activity in St. Louis. I've never been ashamed of being a Missourian until last week when I read a report released by the American Lung Association. This state, which I love so much, has received a failing grade in something that I hold as one of my highest priorities, protecting kids.

According to the State of Tobacco Control 2013 report released by the American Lung Association, Missouri received a failing grade in tobacco prevention and control program funding, smoke-free air, cigarette taxes and cessation coverage. I know that some of our readers are likely tobacco users, and I understand that tobacco use regulations and taxes can be a very controversial subject. Please, don't stop reading just yet. First, take a moment to think about your children or grandchildren. If they are young, aren't your hopes that they will never experiment with cigarettes or other forms of tobacco? If an adult tried to entice them to smoke, how would you feel? Would you be angry? I know I would be.

The tobacco industry spends $22 million per day to market their products to members of the public, including their consumers of the future, children. Companies continue to introduce and promote new products, such as candy-flavored cigars and dissolvable tobacco products, which are designed to appeal to youth. Studies show that 3,800 kids try their first cigarette each day and another 3,000 youngsters try their first cigar each day. Today, nearly one-quarter of all Missourians smoke. The rate of smokers in high schools across the state is over 18 percent, and other 5.4 percent of middle school kids in Missouri are already using tobacco products. According to those statistics, one in 20 of our children or grandchildren will be using tobacco by the time they are in the sixth through eighth grades, and one out of six of our young loved ones will be smokers by the time they reach high school.

The American Lung Association's report shows that Missouri only spent $61,785 in state funding on tobacco control programs during the last fiscal year. The state used another $2,275,032 in federal funding, including monies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the United States Food and Drug Administration, to pay for tobacco control programs, which brings the total to just over $2.3 million. The CDC recommends states spend at least $73.2 million on these types of programs, which means Missouri is spending 3.2 percent of the recommended level.

When I was in high school or college and I received an inadequate grade, my parents encouraged me to work harder and study longer. They also took time to talk to me to discover where I was having trouble and provide support for improvement. Tobacco use causes around 9,500 deaths in Missouri each year and costs the state's economy over $4.7 billion in healthcare costs and lost productivity. It's time for Missourians to work harder by educating our youth on the dangers of using tobacco. Missouri receives $242 million in tobacco-related revenue each year. It is time for our legislators to study harder, looking for ways to use those dollars to help with tobacco control programs. With support from all Missourians, our state could see an improvement in its tobacco control grade next year. Even more importantly, we could see the number of youth tobacco users decrease in the future.

Lindsay Reed