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American Lung Association gives state failing grade for anti-smoking efforts

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PHOENIX – Though Arizona consistently earns high marks for its smoke-free air, the state’s ratings for coverage of smokers trying to quit slid to an F in the American Lung Association’s 2010 report card.

In the report released Thursday, Arizona fell from a D in that category because it spends $2.89 per person to help smokers quit, while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends $10.53.

That low grade made two Fs among the four categories. The other was in tobacco prevention-and-control spending, an area in which the budget fell nearly $4 million dollars from last fiscal year.

Arizona received an A for prohibiting smoking in locations from schools to restaurants and a C for its $2-per-pack cigarette tax. All grades are based on standards recommended by the CDC.

Wayne Tormala, bureau chief for the Arizona Department of Health Services’ Bureau of Tobacco Education and Prevention, said the CDC’s recommendations are often the gold bar that few states are able to meet in a poor economy.

“It’s debatable whether states should be held to that standard,” he said, though he added that his bureau would like to see Arizona meet those goals in the future.

For example, Arizona’s funding for tobacco prevention and control, which received an F, is just under $20 million for the 2011 fiscal year, an 18 percent decrease from the previous year. The CDC recommends that states allocate $68 million.

Arizona’s funding in this area comes almost entirely from a 13-cent-per-pack share of the state’s cigarette tax. Because of this, it falls when fewer people buy tobacco products – a fact Tormala called ironic.

“Although the revenues are going down because the use of tobacco is going down, we still feel like we’re putting our money to good use and getting good results,” he said.

Stacey Mortenson, executive director of the American Lung Association in Arizona, said the report card should inspire leaders to do better.

“Any failing grade means we’re doing a disservice to the community,” she said.

Funding for tobacco control and prevention has been low across the nation, with all but 10 states earning an F. Only two states – North Dakota and Alaska – received As.

Arizona scores higher in some areas, including ranking 11th in the nation for its cigarette tax, which is well above the national average of $1.34 per pack.

Christian Stumpf, regional director of advocacy for the American Lung Association of the Southwest, said there’s a large correlation between taxation of tobacco and the number of people who quit smoking or don’t start because of the cost.

“There’s never a high enough cigarette tax, and we’re constantly encouraging states to raise it,” he said.

Thomas Carr, director of national policy at the American Lung Association and lead author of the 2010 report, said Arizona leaders could look at increasing this tax as a source of revenue in a tough economic time.

Expense is the No. 1 reason smokers call Arizona’s hotlines to help them quit. In the future, when budget problems have been resolved, Tormala said he would like to see an increase on Arizona’s tobacco tax.

Despite spending less than 30 percent of the CDC’s recommendation for the hotlines, Tormala said Arizona has seen huge success with them, with 40 percent of those who call quitting for six to 12 months. Because of this and the budget crisis, it’s unlikely the hotlines will see more funding in the near future, he said.

Ryan DeMenna, a lobbyist for the Arizona chapter of the American Lung Association, said this year he will focus on defending anti-tobacco funding rather than fighting for more.

“With the deficit being the primary focus, it’s really a defensive session and we can’t take a proactive approach to any legislation,” he said. “There’s just no money.”