Breaking News
More () »

Maine's Leading Local News: Weather, Traffic, Sports and more | Maine | NewsCenterMaine.com

1/3 Maine high school students using tobacco

Maine earns three "A grades," but the American Lung Association urges state officials to restrict flavored tobacco products and increase the tobacco tax in 2021.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The American Lung Association released its latest report on the state of tobacco in Maine. The association argues that ending tobacco use in Maine is critical to saving lives, especially during a pandemic. 

In addition to tobacco-related death and disease, smoking also increases the risk of the most severe impacts of COVID-19, making ending tobacco use more important than ever. 

This year’s “State of Tobacco Control” report from the American Lung Association grades federal and state efforts to reduce tobacco use and "calls for meaningful policies that will prevent and reduce tobacco use and save lives." 

Maine’s Grades:

“State of Tobacco Control” 2021 grades states and the District of Columbia in five areas that have been proven to prevent and reduce tobacco use and save lives. This year, Maine received the following grades.

  1. Funding for State Tobacco Prevention Programs – Grade A
  2. Strength of Smokefree Workplace Laws – Grade A
  3. Level of State Tobacco Taxes – Grade C
  4. Coverage and Access to Services to Quit Tobacco – Grade A
  5. (NEW) Ending the Sale of All Flavored Tobacco Products - Grade F

According to the American Lung Association, tobacco use remains the nation’s leading cause of preventable death and disease, taking an estimated 480,000 lives every year. 

The association explains that some groups are disproportionately affected by this crisis. In a press release, it says, "Much like COVID-19, tobacco use and secondhand smoke exposure disproportionately impacts certain communities, including communities of color, LGTBQ+ Americans and persons of lower income." 

RELATED: 'Keep trying' — 'Great American Smokeout' encourages people to quit smoking

RELATED: Maine among worst states for new lung cancer cases

American Lung Association Senior Division Director for State Public Policy and Maine resident, Lance Boucher says 1 in every three Maine high school students is currently using tobacco. Boucher says, “In Maine, our high school tobacco use rate remains at an alarming 33%. The surge in youth vaping combined with the fact that smoking increases the chance of severe COVID-19 symptoms, make it more important than ever for Maine to implement the proven measures outlined in ‘State of Tobacco Control’ to prevent and reduce tobacco use." 

Boucher continues, “Mainers should not have a false sense of security with Maine’s report card. While Maine has some of the highest grades in the country, we still have a long way to go.”

According to the association press release, "The American Lung Association calls on the Maine Legislature and Governor Mills to take comprehensive action this session to address this public health crisis. As the youth vaping epidemic continues, protecting youth from all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, is more urgent than ever. Today, 1 in 5 teens are vaping and our children are becoming the next generation addicted to tobacco. Youth vaping and tobacco use overall is largely driven by flavored tobacco products, and our 19th annual report has added a new state grade calling for policies to end the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes, flavored e-cigarettes and flavored cigars. Maine’s failing grade in this category is a call for action."

“Kids follow the flavors and ending the sale of all flavored tobacco products in Maine is key to ending the youth e-cigarette epidemic and youth tobacco use overall. We call on legislators in Augusta to prohibit the sale of menthol and all flavored tobacco products across the State of Maine,” says Boucher.

In addition to prohibiting flavored tobacco products, this year’s report noted the need to focus on increasing tobacco taxes and preserving funding for tobacco prevention and quit smoking programs. One of the most effective ways to reduce tobacco use, not only among low-income individuals but also for youth is to significantly increase the tax on all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes. Multiple studies have shown that every 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes reduces consumption by about four percent among adults and about seven percent among youth. “To protect kids from a lifetime of nicotine addiction, the Lung Association in Maine encourages Maine to increase cigarette taxes $2 per pack,” said Boucher. “Maine is long overdue to increase the price of tobacco products having last raised the cigarette tax in 2005. While we used to have the strongest tobacco tax in the northeast, we know second to last.”

Federal Grades Overview:

“State of Tobacco Control” 2021 also grades the federal government in five areas:

  • Federal Government Regulation of Tobacco Products (2021 grade – D)
  • Federal Coverage of Quit Smoking Treatments (2021 grade – D)
  • Level of Federal Tobacco Taxes (2020 grade – F)
  • Federal Mass Media Campaigns to Prevent and Reduce Tobacco Use (2021 grade – A)
  • Federal Minimum Age of Sale for Tobacco Products to 21 (2021 grade – A)