Lawmakers have opportunity to combat public health impact of COVID-19 by enacting policies proven to reduce and prevent tobacco use, including a tobacco tax increase.
On April 13, state legislators heard from cancer and cardiovascular patients, survivors, and public health advocates during Maine’s virtual Tobacco Action Day. Even though the advocates could not travel to the capitol this year, they made their voices heard through virtual meetings, phone calls and social media.
The event, organized by the Association and American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), drew public health advocates from around the state to urge lawmakers to support lifesaving public health legislation. This year volunteers urged lawmakers to enact policies that will impact Big Tobacco’s deadly influence in the state.
With smoking contributing to over a quarter of cancers deaths in Maine, the deadly results of the tobacco industry’s targeting of youth and marginalized communities cannot be ignored, especially now: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has named smoking a risk factor for developing severe illness from COVID-19.
“Tobacco companies continue to target our children, communities of color, communities with lower incomes, rural communities and members of the LGBTQ community with sweet, sleek, cheap, and deadly products, including e-cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco, and cigarettes,” said Allyson Perron, Director of Government Relations for AHA in Maine. “We join public health advocates across the state in supporting a comprehensive approach to tobacco control aimed at lowering tobacco use rates and protecting everyone from the deadly impact of tobacco products.”
Specifically, volunteers asked lawmakers to support a $2 increase in Maine’s tobacco tax, fund tobacco prevention and cessation programs at the CDC recommended level of at $15.9 million, and end the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes. Advocates noted that a $2 increase in the cigarette excise tax would lead to a nearly 20% reduction in youth smoking in Maine.
“We owe it to our ourselves to tackle tobacco use in Maine and kick Big Tobacco to the curb in all our communities,” said Hilary Schneider, Government Relations Director for ACS CAN in Maine. “We can do this through proven evidence-based public policies that help people quit or never use this deadly product in the first place.”
“Increasing the tax on cigarettes, funding tobacco prevention and treatment programs at the CDC recommended level and ending the sale of all flavored tobacco products in Maine will help save lives. We must combat the millions of dollars Big Tobacco spends in our state on targeting our kids, rural communities, communities of color, and the LGBTQ community with their deadly products – in doing so, we will ensure a healthier future for all Mainers,” continued Schneider.
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