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More work needs to be done to reduce tobacco use in Delaware

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The American Lung Association’s report shows Delaware has made strides in the past year in its efforts to end tobacco use. But American Lung Association Chief Mission Officer Deb Brown says it’s important to remember the scope of the issue.

“Tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death in America and disease in America and here in Delaware it takes the lives of about 14,040 Delawareans each year,” she said.

The biggest change in this year's report was a nearly $2.5 million increase in funding for the state’s tobacco prevention and control program, earning the state an “A” in that category.

“Funding tobacco control programs can and does counter the over 7.8 billion dollars in predatory marketing from the tobacco industry,” explained Brown. “In addition, the money provides assistance for programs and services that can help keep young people from starting, and help people quit tobacco use.”

State funding for tobacco control programs totals nearly $9.7 million.

But the Lung Association notes that while this is more than last year, it is lower than historical levels and below the Centers for Disease Control Prevention’s recommended level.

In Delaware, the adult smoking rate is 13.4%, and the high school smoking rate is 6.2%, though the high school tobacco use rate is 19.4%.

The ALA points to the increased use of electronic cigarettes and flavored tobacco products as the cause of the increase in teen smoking and tobacco use- and calls for it to be addressed using state funds.

The organization also urges lawmakers to protect the funds, and put more toward prevention and cessation methods.

“One of the areas that we need to work on is to make sure that we have access to all 7 FDA approved tobacco cessation medications, and all 3 forms of counseling without barriers such as copays and prior authorization,” said Brown.

While state employee health plans offer extensive coverage for cessation methods, the state medicaid program only offers some of the medications and counseling options, with more barriers.

Delaware also received an “F” rating in tobacco taxes, with actions in 2022 from the State Senate working against the ALA’s recommendations. A bill was carried over from the previous session that would decrease the tax rate on premium cigars from 30% to 15% of the wholesale price. The bill passed in the Senate, but was ultimately defeated.

Brown notes tax parity among tobacco products is important in reducing the chance of tobacco users switching to another, less expensive but equally harmful product as another becomes more expensive.

Read the entire report at lung.org.

Quinn Kirkpatrick was born and raised in Wilmington, Delaware and a graduated of the University of Delaware. She joined Delaware Public Media in June 2021