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A regional collaboration of public media stations that serve the Rocky Mountain States of Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

A new report says Mountain West states could do more to help combat tobacco use

A lit cigarette sits on a ledge. It's still mostly unburned with a big tuft of ash at the end. Smoke wafts from it.
Andres Siimon
The American Lung Association says that many Mountain West states need to spend more money to combat tobacco use. Only Utah scored an A in that category in the association's latest report on efforts to curb smoking around the country.

Tobacco remains the nation’s leading cause of preventable death and disease. That's according to the American Lung Association, which recently released its State of Tobacco Control annual report, which tracks tobacco use and prevention efforts.

Every state in the Mountain West scored an F for not spending enough to combat tobacco use, except Utah, which scored an A.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends an amount each state should spend on programs that prevent tobacco use or help people quit smoking. Utah was only one of two states that got an A rating in this category, spending 87% of the CDC's recommended level on these programs.

Meanwhile, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, and Wyoming all received an F in this category. Nevada spent only 8% of the CDC's recommended level, while Colorado was highest at 50%.

Many states receive funding from several resources such as tobacco taxes and funds from lawsuits against tobacco companies.

“State revenue from tobacco products include taxes on tobacco products and funds from the Master Settle Agreement, which was an agreement reached in 1998 between state Attorneys General and four cigarette manufacturers requiring the tobacco industry to pay states billions of dollars for misleading the public about their products," explained Carrie Nyssen, the senior directory of advocacy for the American Lung Association. "These dollars are separate from the Juul settlement dollars.

“States just aren't using these dollars in a way that helps those people that are addicted to tobacco products,.”

The American Lung Association's report also considered other factors in its report, such as smoke-free air laws, tobacco taxes, and the regulation of flavored tobacco products.

There were some bright spots: Colorado and New Mexico scored an A for “Access to Cessation Services.”

Nyssen said some past educational campaigns — such as the commercials that portrayed former smokers speaking in robotic voices with a "stoma" or hole in the neck — were successful. But as traditional cigarette smoking declines, vaping has increased dramatically. It’s now considered an epidemic among young smokers.

“There's a misconception that they're safer to use," she said. "That they don't have nicotine. And the reality is they do have nicotine and for youth especially, it's a gateway to a lifelong addiction to nicotine products.”

Some groups continue to be more impacted by other trends. For example, Black smokers disproportionately use menthol products.

“it's sweeter, it's relaxing on the throat," Nyssen said. "It makes it easier to start using tobacco products and it makes it harder to quit."

The American Lung Association has several actionable steps it recommends:

  • It wants the federal government to do more to restrict the proliferation of products like vaping, flavored tobacco and menthol.
  • It wants states to allocate more funding toward smoking prevention efforts.
  • It urges people to become advocates in their own states.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, KUNC in Colorado and KANW in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Yvette Fernandez is the regional reporter for the Mountain West News Bureau. She joined Nevada Public Radio in September 2021.

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