American Lung Association gives North Carolina failing grades

The American Lung Association failed North Carolina in several categories in their "State of Tobacco Control" report.

Specifically, the organization criticized the state's funding for tobacco prevention programs, the amount of state tobacco taxes, strength of smoke-free workplace laws, coverage and access to services to quit tobacco, and minimum age of sale for tobacco products.

"We know how to do it. We know how to solve the issue, and we have great people to do it. The issue is that the state needs to invest more, more resources in the programs," said Sarah Jacobson, the Government Relations Director at the American Heart Association.

The American Lung Association encouraged lawmakers to increase their funding for programs. Jacobson believes health officials face an uphill funding battle against tobacco companies.

"We know that the tobacco industry invests billions of dollars every year to entice people to start using their products," Jacobson said.

According to the non-profit Tax Foundation, North Carolina has the fifth-lowest tobacco tax on a 20-pack of cigarettes at 45 cents. The national average is $1.70.

"People with all kinds of addictions are unable to beat tobacco addiction when they're able to beat other substances," said Dr. James Davis, the Director of Duke Center for Smoking Cessation.

Davis explained that he and friends picked tobacco growing up in North Carolina, and understands its economic impact in the state. According to the Department of Agriculture, more than 6,000 jobs statewide were tied to the industry as of 2014; however, Davis believes the healthcare costs outweigh any profits.

"The cost isn't simply the cost of medical bills. It's the cost of people not being able to work. Some of the people I treat are so ill, they haven't been able to work in years," Davis said.

The Department of Health and Human Services said they have increased efforts to fight vaping among middle and high schools, held focus groups with youth to tailor their marketing, and launched a new digital campaign this week after seeing it implemented successfully in other states.

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