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Kentucky Gets Straight Fs For Tobacco Policies, Report Says

Dominique Bartlett helps Dezjon Tolson light a cigarette. The two started smoking as teenagers because they thought it would be cool.
Dominique Bartlett helps Dezjon Tolson light a cigarette. The two started smoking as teenagers because they thought it would be cool.

Kentucky policies fail to protect residents from the ill effects of tobacco, according to an American Lung Association's State of Tobacco Control report released Wednesday.

The report evaluates tobacco control policies at the federal and state level and assigns grades based on whether current laws.

Four measures were considered: tobacco prevention, smoke-free air, tobacco taxes and access to cessation services.

Kentucky received straight Fs. This is the second year in a row the state has gotten straight Fs.

Alabama, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Texas and Virginia also received Fs in all categories.

Vermont is the only state that didn't receive any grades below a C.

About 30 percent of Kentuckians are smokers, according to Gallup.

Heather Wehrheim, director of advocacy for Kentucky's American Lung Association, said legislators needs to pass a comprehensive, statewide indoor smoking ban. She said she hopes the report will help lawmakers see the urgency of passing a smoke-free bill.

"We are behind in every area of tobacco control in this state. It shouldn't be something that ever happens again," she said.

She said that the organization supports state Rep. Susan Westrom's statewide smoking ban bill. A recent poll showed that  two-third of Kentucky residents want a statewide smokefree policy.

But Dominique Bartlett, 24, and Dejzon Tolson, 20, are not among the supporters.

In downtown Louisville on Wednesday, Bartlett and Tolson said they do not support a statewide smoking ban—they said they want to smoke wherever they decide.

"I think it's stupid. That's what smoking areas are for," Bartlett said.

Both said they began smoking in high school because they thought it would be cool.

In Kentucky, 19 local governoments have enacted comprehensive local smoke-free ordinances, covering 31 percent of the state population.

The American Lung Association's report found that in 2014, no state passed comprehensive smoke-free laws or significantly increase tobacco taxes.

Wehrheim said the state needs to consider increasing excise taxes on all tobacco products by $1. For every 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes, overall cigarette consumption falls by approximately 3 to 5 percent, according to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids.

Wehrheim said tobacco cessation programs throughout the state need more funding.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that Kentucky spends between $39.2 million and $56.4 million on tobacco prevention and cessation programs. The state only plans to spend $2.5 million to help people quit smoking.

"It is way under what the CDC recommends for states to have per smoker to help them quit. We are finding that a number of health insurance plans here in Kentucky don't even cover what the Affordable Care Act recommends as far as cessation methods," she said.

Alaska and North Dakota are the only states that fund their state tobacco prevention programs at levels recommended by the CDC.

(Photo credit: Ja'Nel Johnson. Caption: Dominique Bartlett helps Dejzon Tolson light a cigarette.)

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