NEW YORK — There's poison in the air we breathe, according to experts, who want to put an end to the 480,000 annual deaths linked to tobacco use and second-hand smoke in America (28,170 in New York).

The American Lung Association released its annual report on the State of Tobacco Control for 2019, grading states on public policy support for helping residents quit and prevent future generations from picking up their first tobacco product.

New York State did not fare as favorably as in years past, receiving grades in the 2019 report as follows:

"F" — for Tobacco Prevention and Control Program Funding

"B" — for Tobacco taxes

"A" — for smoke-free air

"C" — for access to cessation services

"C" — for efforts to raise the age of tobacco access to 21

Michael Sielback, National Assistant Vice President of State Public Policy for American Lung Association, reported on both the ongoing progress and failures in New York State to prevent tobacco use and aid quitting. 

"Adult and youth cigarette use rate is at an all time low, but 7.6 percent of high school students and 14 percent of adults are smoking cigarettes, and a troubling 78 percent rise in youth e-cigarette use from 2017 to 2018 ... Failure to apply proved, effective policies to other tobacco products like cigars and e-cigarettes is directly responsible for the dramatic rise in youth e-cigarette use," he detailed.

The numbers are stoking fears that a new generation will fall victim to addiction to tobacco products and die as a result. Little help is on the horizon, according to Sielback.

"Despite once being a leader, New York remains stalled in its commitment to save lives and reduce healthcare costs from tobacco here in New York," he said.

Sielback called on New York to spend more to give access to cessation and counseling benefits without copays and duration limits; expanding the list of smoke free spaces; and to raise the age of sales to 21 in 2019.

"For New Yorkers, there are too many hurdles in the way of successfully quitting that can and must change," he said.

Thomas Carr, National Director of Policy for the American Lung Association and Chief Report Author, revealed that the national picture isn't any better, as no states in this year's report received all "A" grades, but four received all "F" grades.

"The challenge continues to be whether our state and federal governments will put effective policies in place," he said.

Carr further detailed that no states are funding tobacco cessation and prevention programs at levels suggested by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). New York's funding for such programs is less than half the suggested amount, despite collecting $2 billion annually from tobacco taxes and legal settlements with manufacturers, NY only spends $39 million on its programs.

The 20th anniversary of the largest legal settlement in history, involving tobacco companies, 46 states and several US territories, according to Carr, "Serves as a vivid reminder that states' annual settlement payments or tobacco taxes are not being used to fund tobacco cessation or prevention programs."

Little progress has been made at the federal level, with no new smoke-free laws passed since 2012. The federal government also received failing grades.

Fairing the best was Massachusetts, which became the sixth state to implement laws raising the tobacco access age to 21, which is a top priority for the Lung Association advocacy in 2019.

Carr urged the FDA to act on limiting e-cigarette use in particular.

"All Americans deserve a healthy life free of tobacco. States and the federal government need to end their failure to act," he said.

Dr. Payel Gupta, an Asthma and Allergy specialist treating adults and children in New York City at ENT and Allergy Associates, echoed the call to better protect youth from tobacco, saying, “According to a 2015 report from the National Academy of Medicine, raising the tobacco age to 21 nationwide would prevent 223,000 deaths among people born between 2000 and 2019, including 50,000 fewer dying from lung cancer, the nation’s leading cancer killer. Failing to put policies like this in place will continue to place the lung health and lives of Americans and our children at risk.”

The end-goal, they all agreed, is to save more lives. The 2019 State of Tobacco Controll Report is available online. For more information, visit lung.org/SOTC