Tackling Tobacco Use In The Volunteer State: Let’s Start With Tennessee Quit Week

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WASHINGTON, Feb 14: In the last six weeks, two critical reports have shined a spotlight on Tennessee’s high levels of tobacco use and inadequate prevention efforts.

In December, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and other public health organizations published a report that compared funding for tobacco cessation and prevention in each state, and Tennessee ranked a dismal 45th nationwide. Tobacco-Free Kids noted that Tennessee provided only 1.5% of the CDC recommended $75 million in funding for tobacco cessation, despite receiving over $400 million in revenue from tobacco taxes and a long-standing settlement deal with tobacco companies (known as the Master Settlement Agreement).In January, the American Lung Association (ALA) released its “State of Tobacco Control” report for 2016, and Tennessee received “F” grades nearly across the board. The ALA pointed out that the Volunteer State “remains among the 22 states that have not passed comprehensive smoke-free laws and has one of the lowest tobacco taxes in the nation.”
With an adult smoking rate of 21.9% that’s more than six points higher than the national rate (15.1%), we have serious work to do to address the most preventable cause of premature mortality and morbidity. In fact, in the United States, smoking kills more people than alcohol, AIDS, car accidents, illegal drugs, murders and suicides combined. That’s why NashvilleHealth, a population health community organization I started with several other concerned citizens, has made reducing our city’s smoking rate a top priority.

Our policymakers and state leaders know we need to do more, which is why for the second year in a row Governor Haslam has proclaimed the week of February 13 “Tennessee Quit Week.” The Tennessee Department of Health will be launching the “It’s Quittin’ Time in Tennessee” statewide campaign to raise awareness about the dangers of tobacco use and drive traffic to the Tennessee State Quitline (1-800-QUIT-NOW), where Tennesseans can receive tobacco cessation counseling and nicotine replacement therapy. Last year, the “Quittin’ Time” campaign helped increase calls to the Quitline six-fold over the previous year during the month of February, and rallied communities and businesses to get involved in their own quit campaign efforts. It was smartly aligned and benefitted from running in conjunction with the CDC’s “Tips from Former Smokers” media campaign.

This year, committed community partners like NashvilleHealth have been working hard to surpass last year’s success. Already 35+ organizations have endorsed the “Quttin’ Time” campaign and have pledged in some way to promote tobacco cessation in their workplaces and neighborhoods. I will be partnering with Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD and Rick Johnson, CEO of the Governor’s Health and Wellness Foundation, to kickoff this important initiative at the Tennessee State Capitol on February 14.

In addition to activating our communities and encouraging individual quit attempts through “Quittin’ Time,” we need to address one of the issues the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids’ report brought to light: state funding for prevention and cessation. I am heartened by Governor Haslam’s commitment to changing our state’s history of insufficient funding, which is evidenced by the $5 million he allotted in his fiscal year 2017-2018 budget to county health departments for this work. If approved by the legislature, this will enable our local health departments to continue to support smoking cessation among pregnant women, provide smoking prevention programs to youth, and reduce exposure to second-hand smoke – work that began in 2014 with an initial $15 million investment in tobacco prevention from the Haslam Administration.

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