By Len Lazarick
The American Lung Association is lambasting Maryland as the “third worst” state in the country for helping smokers quit the habit, even while it has the fifth lowest smoking rate in the nation at 15%.
The charge from the Lung Association is based on the state’s reduced funding for smoking cessation efforts. But the report from the Lung Association does not look at overall smoking rates.
The top ten states rated by the Lung Association all have higher smoking rates than Maryland’s, including fourth ranked Oklahoma, which has the third highest percentage of smokers over 18 in the country, at 25%. The national average is 20.6%, according to SmokeFree.gov, a website run by the National Cancer Institute.
Kimberly Williams, advocacy director for the Lung Association, recognized that “Maryland does have a low smoking rate,” due to high tobacco taxes and smoking-bans in offices, bars and restaurants.
But out of a 60 point scoring system, Maryland lost 10 points for not having plans to help state employees quit, and for its low funding of the smoking quitline. Maryland budgets just $1.20 per smoker, compared to the $10.53 recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“We just think this should be available for everyone,” Williams said. “We’re really advocating for this whole pie approach.” Even people who quit because cigarettes are getting too expensive “should have someone to help them quit, rather than go cold turkey.”
Frances Phillips, deputy secretary for public health, said, “This report really took us by surprise,” given Maryland’s low smoking rate. Phillips also said “tobacco deaths are well down” and the state has the 18th best quit rate in the nation, based on CDC figures.
On the quitline, Phillips said it was not a question of how much money is spent, but how well the services are delivered.
She said Maryland’s quitline has no waiting times and no busy signals to get counseling and help such as nicotine gum and patches. Phillips noted that even commercial insurance companies recommend the state-run quitline for beneficiaries who want to stop smoking.
“We do certainly have areas that we can improve on,” but overall the state’s performance is good, Phillips said.
“It’s wonderful that Maryland has done the two things we need to do,” said
Vinnie DeMarco, president of Health Care for All, which has pushed to raise the cigarette tax twice and is now seeking to raise it another dollar to $3 a pack.
The ban on smoking in offices, restaurants and bars has also helped.
The diversion of money from the Cigarette Restitution Fund has “sadly happened around the country,” DeMarco said. “It’s pennywise and pound foolish.”
Phillips said the state is actively pursuing funding from the federal Medicaid program to help it fund more counseling services.