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EXPERT AVAILABLE: MU Expert Says Missouri’s Failing Grades in Tobacco Control Aren’t a Surprise

American Lung Association graded Missouri ‘F’ in four smoking-related categories

January 25th, 2012

Story Contact: Jesslyn Chew, ChewJ@missouri.edu

The views and opinions expressed in this “for expert comment” release are based on research and/or opinions of the researcher(s) and/or faculty member(s) and do not reflect the University’s official stance.

COLUMBIA, Mo. – The American Lung Association issued its annual “State of Tobacco Control” report last week and gave Missouri failing grades in four smoking-related categories: cigarette taxes, smoke-free laws, tobacco cessation spending and tobacco prevention spending. A University of Missouri professor said the ‘F’ grades don’t surprise her.

Linda Lair, clinical assistant professor of respiratory therapy and director of clinical education in the MU School of Health Professions, said Missouri should raise its cigarette tax, which currently is the lowest in the United States. Missouri smokers are taxed 17 cents per pack of 20 cigarettes, while smokers in Connecticut, Hawaii, New York, Rhode Island and Washington are charged nearly $3 per pack.

“If we could increase the tax rates, we could generate money for education and prevention as well as smoking cessation programs,” Lair said.

Missouri spends less than $60,000 a year on tobacco cessation and prevention programs but pays more than $4.7 billion in economic costs due to smoking every year, the association reports. In addition, nearly 10,000 Missourians die every year due to smoking-related illnesses.

People who smoke know the habit hurts their health, but they continue to smoke because of the culture in which they were raised, Lair said.

“When I taught smoking cessation classes, patients would mention that their great-grandparents, grandparents and parents had smoked,” Lair said. “It’s shocking how young some people are when they start smoking. One patient tried his first cigarette as a 6-year-old.”

Lair said the low grades should remind Missourians that more work needs to be done to prevent and stop tobacco use. Despite Missouri’s failing grades, Lair said the state has made some progress in its tobacco policies.

“I can remember eating at restaurants with smoking and nonsmoking sections. Now, entire communities have placed bans on smoking in public,” Lair said. “Believe it or not, 25 to 35 years ago, people were allowed to smoke in hospitals.”

This year marks the fourth in a row that Missouri has received failing grades. Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia also failed every category.

Lair is a registered respiratory therapist with more than 20 years of experience. She taught Freedom From Smoking, the American Lung Association’s smoking cessation program, from 1990-97. She continues to counsel patients about quitting smoking.

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