(02/01/2019)
STATE WILL NOT RAISE TOBACCO AGE TO 21, TOBACCO LOBBY WINS

West Virginia is "Tabacca Heaven."

Millions of dollars in tobacco settlement money was diverted to other state projects or to fill financial holes.

The American Lung Association's 2019 "State of Tobacco Control" report shows West Virginia earned a number of failing grades to reduce and prevent tobacco use.

ALA advocacy director Sarah Lawver calling on lawmakers to make a change.

"West Virginia lawmakers must do more to implement the proven policies to combat tobacco use in the state," Lawver said.

According to the report, the state received one of the lowest scores in the nation getting grades of "F" for funding state tobacco prevention programs, level of state tobacco taxes, coverage and access to services to quit tobacco, and minimum age of sale for tobacco products to 21.

"It is one of three states does not currently invest any state funding into these life saving programs and services," Lawver said.

American Heart Association leaders in Charleston are working to pass legislation to combat tobacco use.

"This is the time for us now to act," American Heart Association Government Relations Director, Melanie Pagliaro said.

Pagliaro said Gov. Jim Justice's proposed budget currently allots $2 million toward tobacco and obesity education, advocates are urging the state to raise that to $5.65 million for the next three years.

"We need to get it back to the $5.65 million so we can get the education programs out to the communities, to the schools and to the parents," Pagliaro said.

With another goal to increase the age of sale for all products to 21, including e-cigarettes which health officials say is spiking among teens.

"West Virginia has one of the highest tobacco rates among adults and youth," Lawver said.

"With the youth epidemic, if we don't address this now, then when we have a skilled workforce it's not going to be a healthy workforce," Pagliaro said.

According to the report, increasing the age of sale of tobacco to 21 nationwide would prevent 223,000 deaths among people born between 2000 and 2019.


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