Report urges Maine to save health and lives by fighting Big Tobacco

Maine is failing to invest in helping smokers quit and preventing kids from picking up the habit, according to a new report released today.

Still, Maine outperforms many other states, the American Lung Association’s “State of Tobacco Control 2014” report found.

The annual report, now in its 12th year, tracks tobacco control policies, assigning grades to the country and each state based on whether laws are “adequately protecting citizens from the enormous toll tobacco use takes on lives and the economy,” according to a Wednesday press release announcing the report.

“Maine’s report card on tobacco control is not one any parent will be proudly hanging on their refrigerator,” Matt Sturgis, leadership board chair for the American Lung Association in Maine, said in the release. “Just eight short years ago, Maine was the only state in the nation to receive straight A’s. Since that time, our state is continuously failing to invest in vital resources that help keep kids from starting to smoke and provide smokers with the tools they so desperately need to quit. Meanwhile, Big Tobacco continues to rob Mainers of their health and employ clever tactics to lure new youth smokers.”

Here are Maine’s grades for 2013:
Tobacco Prevention Control and Spending D
Smoke-free Air A
Cigarette Tax C
Cessation D
Maine was one of the only states to escape any failing grades.
The tobacco prevention measure ranks how well states follow U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations for funding programs that prevent and reduce tobacco use.
Smoke-free air laws include policies that protect the public from secondhand smoke. Maine passed a ban on smoking in vehicles carrying children in 2008, which new research suggests prompted Mainers to follow suit in their homes.
Maine’s cigarette tax is $2 per pack. The Lung Association and its partners advocated last year for a substantial increase in the cigarette tax, but the legislation was defeated in legislative committee. Anti-smoking groups are now celebrating, however, after the Maine House and Senate rejected a veto by Gov. Paul LePage on a bill that would require MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid program, to fully fund tobacco cessation treatment.
The report’s cessation grade indicates how well a state helps tobacco users quit, particularly Medicaid beneficiaries and state employees.
Tobacco causes an estimated 2,235 deaths in Maine each year and costs the state’s economy $1 billion in healthcare expenses and lost productivity, the press release states.

The report’s publication follows last week’s release of the 2014 U.S. Surgeon General’s report, which added to the list of health problems associated with tobacco use on the 50th anniversary of the first Surgeon General’s report that linked smoking to lung cancer, heart disease and other deadly illnesses. The new Surgeon General’s report warns that 5.6 million of today’s youth will die from tobacco use without stronger action to combat smoking.

“Smoking is responsible for almost 500,000 deaths in this country annually and our state leaders must act now so that we may prevent more Americans from getting sick and dying from tobacco-related disease,” Jeff Seyler, president and CEO of the American Lung Association of the Northeast, said in the release. “The battle against the tobacco epidemic is not over.”
The report listed the following priorities for Maine:
  • expanding funding for state tobacco prevention and cessation programs
  • increasing the cigarette tax by at least $1
  • providing comprehensive cessation benefit coverage to all Mainers
  • taxing all tobacco products at equal rates


Jackie Farwell

About Jackie Farwell

I'm the health editor for the Bangor Daily News, a Bangor native, a UMaine grad, and a weekend crossword warrior. I never get sick of writing about Maine people, geeking out over health care data, and finding new ways to help you stay well. I live in Gorham with my husband Nick and our hound dog Riley.