Opinion

Colorado is falling behind in the fight against tobacco use

Author: R.J. Ours - August 13, 2018 - Updated: August 12, 2018

RJ-Ours-Colorado-Government-Relations-Director-1-e1534135698799.jpg
R.J. Ours

Colorado falls short in implementing policies and passing legislation to reduce death and suffering from cancer. According to the latest edition of “How Do You  Measure Up? A Progress Report on State Legislative Activity to Reduce Cancer Incidence and Mortality,” Colorado meets the policy recommendations in just two of the nine key issue areas. The report was released this month by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN).

This year alone, roughly 25,600 Coloradans will be diagnosed with cancer and 8,000 people will die from the devastating disease. Almost 26 percent of all cancer deaths in Colorado are caused by tobacco use, which is why ACS CAN is so concerned with the state’s low tobacco rankings.

Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the state. Smoking kills 5,100 Coloradans every year. Additionally, Colorado now tops 37 other states surveyed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for e-cigarette use among high school students.

The report shows Colorado falls short in four tobacco control categories proven to help reduce tobacco use, save lives and save money.

The Centennial State earned a “red” or failing grade for its low cigarette tax – currently 84 cents per pack. The national average is $1.75 per pack. Colorado’s lawmakers can save lives, reduce health care costs and generate much-needed revenue by significantly increasing taxes on cigarettes, cigars, little cigars, smokeless tobacco and all other tobacco products, including e-cigarettes. ACS CAN supports raising the price of all tobacco products through tax increases of at least $1 per pack of cigarettes. Evidence shows this encourages people who use tobacco to quit and prevents kids from becoming addicted to a deadly product.

Colorado also needs to update its Clean Indoor Air Act to include all electronic smoking devices and ensure all restaurants, bars and casinos across the state are smoke-free environments. Comprehensive smoke-free laws are the only effective way to protect all workers and the public from the health hazards of secondhand smoke, including e-cigarettes. Strong smoke-free laws also de-normalize smoking, which can help reduce youth tobacco use and make it easier to support adults who are trying to quit.

Lastly, Colorado needs to increase funding for the state’s tobacco prevention and cessation programs. Comprehensive, adequately funded tobacco prevention and cessation programs reduce tobacco use and tobacco-related diseases, resulting in lower health care costs. In fiscal year 2018, Colorado spent $24.2 million on tobacco prevention funding. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends Colorado spend $52.9 million on these programs.

“How Do You Measure Up?” rates states in nine specific areas of public policy that can help fight cancer, including increased access to care through Medicaid, funding for cancer screening programs, smoke-free laws, cigarette tax levels, funding for tobacco prevention and cessation programs, cessation coverage under Medicaid and restricting indoor tanning devices for minors. The report also looks at whether a state provides a balanced approach to pain medication and if it has passed policies proven to increase patient quality of life.

By passing the proven policies laid out in this report, Colorado’s lawmakers could save lives and reduce long-term health care costs that can be reinvested back into our state economy.

View the complete report and details on Colorado’s grades at www.acscan.org/measure.

R.J. Ours

R.J. Ours

R.J. Ours is the Colorado government relations director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.