Hawaii gets an 'A' among states for tobacco prevention
Hawaii is one of 16 states to receive an overall "A" grade from the national American Lung Association for tobacco prevention programs.
"We're thrilled," said Deborah Zysman, executive director of the Coalition for a Tobacco Free Hawaii. "That means we're leading the nation in tobacco prevention right now."
Last year Hawaii received no "A" grades in the state's progress in preventing smoking, but this year it received two, she said.
"It is national recognition of the great strides Hawaii has made this year. We still have a long ways to go, of course."
One "A" was for smoke-free air, because of the sweeping no-smoking law that took effect in November. The other was for expenditures for tobacco prevention and control, which drew a "D " grade for Hawaii in 2005.
The national association gave Hawaii a "B" for the cigarette tax. It's the same grade as last year, although the tax went up 20 cents in October to $1.60 per pack, and Hawaii has the 10th-highest state cigarette tax, Zysman said.
New Jersey has the highest state cigarette tax at $2.575, and Chicago has the highest combined state and local cigarette tax at $3.66.
Hawaii received a "C" for youth access to tobacco, the same as last year, and Zysman said she asked the national association for clarification. "It seems we meet the criteria for youth access. I think we should receive a higher grade."
Julian Lipsher, Department of Health Tobacco Prevention and Education Program public health educator, said he'd also like further explanation for the youth access grade. He said Hawaii has a strong set of protections and "very low sales to minors. "I think we have one of the lowest sales-to-minor rates in the nation."
Regarding the "A" for smoke-free air, Lipsher noted the state's new smoke-free workplace law. He said Hawaii has had protections against smoking for a number of years at the county level, but received lower grades in the past because there was no state law.
Zysman said a 2005 law that took effect in December requiring anyone in Hawaii selling tobacco products to have a license helped bump up Hawaii's grades.
"That will make sure, when we do inspections, that we have a good list to know who is selling tobacco products," she said.
Sterling Yee, American Lung Association of Hawaii president, called Hawaii's two upgrades "significant and much deserved." However, he noted that the state's 2006 expenditure of $10.4 million for tobacco control and prevention is below the minimum $10.8 million in state spending recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"Tobacco remains the leading preventable cause of death and disease in both Hawaii and the nation," Yee pointed out, adding that prevention and control programs have proven effective where they are "comprehensive, well funded and sustained over many years.'
The "A" for tobacco control expenditures is based on tobacco-related health promotion and prevention money that was not counted previously, as well as anticipated increases from the Hawaii tobacco trust fund, the lung association said.
Zysman and Lipsher said the comprehensive no-smoking law that took effect Nov. 16 is working out well.
"Overnight, signs were up where they needed to go, and when I've been going to bars and restaurants, it (the law) seems to be implemented quite successfully," Zysman said.
"Mostly I've been hearing nothing but thanks. People say they are going out more, that it's nice to go home from work and it's nice to not smell like cigarettes."
The Health Department is taking an educational approach to enforcement, issuing letters when it receives a complaint. But complaints declined substantially after the first few weeks, Lipsher said. "There is widespread compliance."
Although the no-smoking bill had been proposed in the Legislature for many years, Lipsher said, "This is the right time. We have gotten a great deal of public understanding and cooperation."