Many of us — perhaps most of us — have friends and family members who have suffered gruesome and painful deaths because of tobacco. Others were able to kick the habit — some of our loved ones quit cold turkey, and others were successful after many, many attempts at quitting. Each person is different, but the addictive power of nicotine on the brain is incredibly strong. Fortunately, help is available for those who want to quit.
Because of the passage of the tobacco tax, which goes into effect on July 1, 2016, we are urging all stakeholders to immediately join together to launch an aggressive campaign to convince people to quit — NOW. We have a limited window of time for this campaign to work.
There were two primary reasons for passing an increase in the tobacco tax, which applies to cigarettes, cigars, spit-tobacco and vapor products.
The first and most important reason for passing the increase in the tobacco tax was to improve the health of the citizens of our state. Smoking kills four thousand three hundred West Virginians every year. An average smoker loses seven minutes of life per cigarette, and ten years in life-expectancy.
For each 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes, research shows that youth smoking is reduced by 6.5 percent and adult usage is cut by 2 percent. Our new tax will result in an estimated 9,500 young people not starting, and 10,800 kids and adults who will quit.
The second reason for passing the tobacco tax increase was financial. In addition to helping balance the budget this year, if West Virginians do stop smoking, it will save our state millions in future health care costs. Tobacco illnesses cost our state over $1 billion annually, or $1,245 per taxpaying household. Forty-two percent of adults with Medicaid coverage and twenty-six percent of adults who have PEIA are smokers. If we are able to reduce those percentages, state taxpayers will save many millions of dollars yearly.
This is the perfect time for our state to begin a campaign to convince citizens that Now is the Time to Quit. This campaign should have many prongs, including:
• The Bureau for Public Health (BPH) should immediately apply for funding from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct a media campaign during the Now is the Time to Quit initiative. The Bureau should coordinate the campaign with doctors, nurses, insurance companies, employers and others.
• All public and private insurers should identify their beneficiaries who use tobacco products and communicate a simple message: the cost of tobacco is going up, your doctor or nurse can help you quit, and Now is the Time to Quit.
• Associations of doctors and nurses should inform their members about the Now is the Time to Quit campaign. Members should be encouraged to immediately begin scheduling appointments with their patients who use tobacco. All clinicians should use the evidenced-based 5-A model: 1) Ask, 2) Advise, 3) Assess, 4) Assist in the quit attempt, and 5) Arrange follow-up.
• In addition to the health consequences of smoking, this campaign should communicate the financial costs to smokers and their families. A one pack a day habit will now cost more than $2,200 per year, while smoking two packs a day will increase costs to over $4,400 yearly.
• During the period of the campaign, insurance companies should cover all FDA-approved medicines for smoking cessation without charging a deductible or co-payment. They should not charge for office visits related to counseling about quitting tobacco.
• All of us should encourage our friends and family members who use tobacco to contact their health care providers and/or call the Tobacco Quit Line, 1-800-966-8784 for assistance with quitting.
This is not a partisan issue – cancer caused by tobacco kills Republicans and Democrats and members of other parties. No one wanted to raise taxes, but the increased costs of tobacco can be an opportunity to motivate our citizens and each other to quit, and keep our young people from ever starting. It is time for leaders to lead in this important campaign. We ask the Governor, the Speaker, the Senate President and State Agencies to join us in encouraging our citizens and each other to quit tobacco. Now is the Time to Quit.
— Delegate Barbara Evans Fleischauer (D - Monongalia, 51) is Minority Chair for the W.Va. House of Delegate Health and Human Resources Committee. She can be reached at 304-340-3127 or [email protected]
— Senator Ron Stollings M.D., F.A.C.P., (D - Boone, 07) is a former chair for the W.Va. Senate Health Committee. He can be reached at 304-357-7939 or [email protected]
— Senator Tom Takubo, D.O. F.C.C.P., (R - Kanawha, 17), specializes in pulmonary medicine, is Vice Chair of the W.Va. Senate Health and Human Resources Committee. He can be reached at 304-357-7990 or [email protected]