The American Lung Association's new State of Tobacco Control report gave Wyoming failing grades for its tobacco policies. Among the criteria was funding for prevention programs, smoke-free workplace laws, tobacco tax rates, services to help quit and the minimum age to buy tobacco. In Wyoming the minimum is 18.
Carrie Nyssen recommended it be raised to 21. She is Wyoming's Senior Director of Advocacy for the Lung Association. She said her organization was disappointed when a proposed one-dollar tax raise on tobacco products failed in the Wyoming legislature.
"The real important thing to remember about increasing tobacco taxes - it's one of the best tools that we have in our toolkit that we know will have an impact and will reduce not only adult consumption but also youth use," said Nyssen.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, young people are using tobacco at increasing rates because of the popularity of electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes. E-cigarettes don't have the same regulations around advertising as regular cigarettes, which are banned from airing ads on TV or radio.
"So you're seeing ads out there that are highly provocative, make the product very attractive, and oftentimes it's really targeted towards youth. And then the flavors that they use - there's a Captain Crunch flavor, cherry, lemon lime," Nyssen said. She called it an easy gateway to becoming addicted to nicotine products.
However, a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine has shown e-cigarettes helped smokers quit at nearly twice the rate of other methods like nicotine patches or gum.
Nyssen said she is optimistic the Wyoming Legislature will revisit the dollar tax raise in the future. Wyoming's tax currently falls well below the country's average of $1.78 - at just 60 cents a pack.
Another bill is still alive this session that would standardize the tobacco tax throughout Wyoming, including on the Wind River Reservation.