Q & A: What is Connecticut Doing to Curb Smoking Rates?

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The American Lung Association is out with its State of Tobacco report highlighting how each state is doing when it comes to tobacco control. Connecticut is not doing so well. The state's adult smoking rate, according to the American Lung Association, is nearly 12%. High school tobacco use is nearly 29%. In all, the report claims smoking has an economic cost of about $2 billion.

NBC Connecticut's Dan Corcoran spoke with South Windsor State Senator Dr. Saud Anwar, who is the vice-chair of the Public Health Committee, about the report.

Dan: "So Senator, you're also a doctor who specializes in lung diseases. So what goes through your mind when you see these numbers?"

Sen. Anwar: "This is an embarrassing report for the state of Connecticut. And it speaks about how we as a state have a responsibility to do better. And this is something that since I took the oath back in 2019, I've been pushing some of these issues. And I'm hoping after this report, we will have more and more legislators join some of the efforts I've been working on."

Dan: "Now the state of tobacco report gave Connecticut a "B" when it comes to tobacco taxes and smoke-free air, but we got an "F" when it comes to funding for tobacco prevention and cessation. The report claims the state contributed nothing to funding for tobacco control programs this year, and we're just relying on the federal funding, which is about $1.1 million. Is that accurate? And if so, why isn't the state contributing even more money?"

Sen Anwar: "Well, unfortunately, it's accurate. And last year in the session, I had actually put a bill, which was SB 58, where I was asking that the state would use the funds to actually fully fund our ability to try and fight this fight at the school level at the middle school in the high school, have the education from the tobacco fund and be able to help prevent this addiction for our children. And unfortunately, my building not go anywhere. And here we are using some of those funds, which are going towards the general fund rather than trying to address the issues that we need to address."

Dan: "I don't want to focus on just the bad here. But this report also gives the state an "F" for flavored tobacco products because there are currently no state laws banning or restricting those products. We know those are really popular with young people -- with teenagers. And we mentioned earlier at the high school tobacco use rate was really 29%. Are there plans in this legislative session to propose any restrictions or bans there?"

Sen Anwar: "Yes, I know our public health committee worked very hard for a very comprehensive bill to address this. This was a priority in 2019. And this was a priority in 2020. And despite the fact that all legislators were on board, towards the implementer, things happen, which resulted in just killing that bill. And then we have to go back to the drawing board and start fighting all over again, because this is a necessity. Flavored tobacco is one way of enticing our children but also has been targeting the minority communities in our state. There's a lot of data to support that this has happened by the industry and we have a responsibility to have prohibition of some of these."

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