The American Lung Association Gives Texas an 'F', Calls it the "Tobacco Industry's Playground"

Smoking rates in the U.S. are plummeting. According to the CDC, there were three million fewer smokers in 2010 than in 2005. The factors contributing to this decline are are fairly obvious: improved educational efforts; cessation programs; higher cigarette taxes; tighter state and local anti-smoking laws; and a growing stigma against lighting up.

But there are still a ton of people who smoke, about one in five adults according to the CDC, and tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable disease and death in this country. Each year, the federal government estimates, tobacco costs the U.S. some $193 million in medical expenses and lost productivity.

All of which is background for "State of Tobacco Control 2013," the American Lung Association's annual state-by-state survey of the country's anti-smoking efforts.

Texas does not fare well. In three of the four categories examined by the ALA -- tobacco prevention funding, smoke-free air, and health coverage for cessation -- Texas gets an "F." In the fourth, cigarette taxes, Texas does slightly better, earning a "D."

The state was dinged by the ALA for weak anti-smoking support in Medicaid and state employees' health insurance plan; a lack of state laws (though there are local regulations) banning smoking in workplaces, restaurants, and other public places; spending just four percent of the CDC-recommended amount on anti-smoking efforts; and for being, in the words of the the ALA's Sara Dreiling, "the tobacco industry's playground."

That's not to say that Texas did particularly bad when compared to other states, particularly in the South. The ALA is generally critical of tobacco prevention efforts in 2012, which it refers to as a "missed opportunity," saying the government has absented itself as "an ever-expanding and evolving tobacco industry pursues new users with ruthless zeal and strengthens its grasp on its current victims by creating new products and new ways to market them."

In particular, the organization is concerned about the rise of smokeless tobacco, electronic cigarettes (particularly those with flavors like Atomic Fireball and cherry cola), and roll-your-own cigarettes, all of which are being taken advantage of by cigarette makers to expand their market share.

In a press release, Dreiling expressed optimism that Texas will crack down in 2013.

"We can no longer allow the Lone Star State to be the tobacco industry's playground," she said. "It's going to take a great deal of political will, but we are confident our elected officials are up to the challenge. Our kids and current smokers are depending on them for help."

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