Isles scolded in anti-smoking report


POSTED: Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Hawaii gets high marks for discouraging smoking with its high tobacco tax and public smoking bans, but the American Lung Association gave the state an F grade for failing to help smokers kick the habit.

A report released today faulted the state government for offering health insurance plans that do not provide “;maximum coverage”; of smoking cessation programs or medications.

Jean Evans, executive director of the American Lung Association of Hawaii, said the report reflects a new scoring category on the annual report card issued nationally. It refers to the medical coverage for state employees and low-income residents in the state's Med-Quest programs.

Randy Perreira, executive director of the Hawaii Government Employees Association, said public employee unions back coverage to kick the nicotine addiction, but “;it is the trustees of the Employer-Union Trust Fund who have not seen fit to add that to health insurance coverage.”;

Evans said, “;Now is an opportune time to talk to state legislators to get comprehensive medical coverage.”;

She said Hawaii had the nation's lowest rate of respiratory disease deaths attributable to smoking in the period covered by the report, 2000-2004. It was second best, behind only Utah, in two other categories: lung cancer deaths attributed to smoking and other smoking-attributable deaths.

However, nicotine addiction treatment remains a public health issue, Evans said. “;Lung cancer is the No. 1 cancer killer for men and women in our state.”;

Other categories on the report card:

» Smoke-free air. Hawaii got an A because of its laws prohibiting smoking in work sites, schools, retail and restaurant businesses and recreation facilities.

» Spending on tobacco prevention and control. Hawaii received a B because it spent $11,309,652 in the field, 74.4 percent of the Centers for Disease Control guideline for the state. An A would be awarded if the spending hit 80 percent.

» Tobacco taxation. Hawaii's $2-per-pack tax on cigarettes received a B grade. States with a tax of $2.38 or more get an A.

“;The annual grading provides a reality check on how we can improve,”; Evans said.