(WTRF) – There’s nothing that can put a pit in your stomach quite like a failing grade on a report card. 

Now think if that “F” was the grade for part of West Virginia’s health. 

Before you go and think “here we go again, ranked the worse in something else”; this isn’t so much about the grades, as it is how to fix them. 

When you really look at the health of the residents in the state there really is no greater issue than this. 

Ken Fletcher, Director of Advocacy, American Lung Association

It may seem obvious that for the American Lung Association there’s no greater issue than tobacco control, but when it comes to health experts say there may be no greater issue in West Virginia. 

Over 4,200 people in West Virginia die every year directly related to smoking, Directly related to it and we’re spending over a billion dollars a year on healthcare costs that are related directly to treating the diseases and illnesses caused by smoking. So, it’s really costing us a lot as taxpayers. 

Ken Fletcher, Director of Advocacy, American Lung Association

The American Lung Association releases its ‘State of Tobacco Control” report every year. It looks at things like funding for tobacco prevention and control, smokefree air laws, tobacco taxes and access to resources to help you quit. 

West Virginia failed:

  • Tobacco Prevention and Control Program Funding – F
  • Smokefree Air – D
  • Tobacco Taxes – F
  • Coverage and Access to Services to Quit Tobacco – F
  • Flavored Tobacco Regulation – F

In neighboring Ohio, some of the grades weren’t much better, except for when it comes to smokefree workplace laws. 

  • Funding for State Tobacco Prevention Programs – F
  • Strength of Smokefree Workplace Laws – A
  • Level of State Tobacco Taxes – F
  • Coverage and Access to Services to Quit Tobacco – C
  • Flavored Tobacco Regulation – F

Rather than focus on what’s wrong, how can we make it right? 

The American Lung Association said a lot of tobacco policies are made at the state level, so there are simple fixes that can really make a difference.

For example, with funding prevention and control programs.

The state is receiving over $232 million in funding that’s coming with tobacco; whether it be from tobacco taxes, tobacco settlement funds. They’re basically taking money that’s coming in from tobacco, but they’re diverting it to other purposes.

Ken Fletcher, Director of Advocacy, American Lung Association

Fletcher said West Virginia only spends $1.6 million on tobacco prevention, which is only about 6.1% of what the CDC recommends.

While Ohio does a little better, they are still below CDC recommendations at 13.1%.

Raising taxes can help keep people, especially young people, from using those products and can be the factor that convinces people to finally quit. 

Ken Fletcher, Director of Advocacy, American Lung Association

While higher taxes typically aren’t a good thing, they are in this case. West Virginia taxes tobacco products at $1.25 per pack. In Ohio, it’s $1.60 per pack. The American Lung Association said at least $2 or $3 is a level that could help convince people to quit due to financial reasons.

Also of great concern in both states is the lack of regulation on selling flavored tobacco products. 

Fletcher said that’s a gateway into getting young people addicted to tobacco. Once the addiction starts, it’s hard to stop. 

The high school tobacco use rate is 40.6%. 40.6, that’s just unbelievable. 

Ken Fletcher, Director of Advocacy, American Lung Association

Fletcher did note that Columbus passed a local ordinance to ban flavored tobacco, but the state legislature tried to keep it from happening. Governor Mike DeWine vetoed the bill that came before him, but Fletcher said it is expected to be addressed again in the new session.

The American Lung Association did praise Ohio’s indoor clean air act that reduces second hand smoke exposure in the workplace and in bars and restaurants, calling it “really great”. This helps reduce secondhand smoke exposure, which Fletcher said over time can cause the same health problems as a smoker.

West Virginia does not have those types of restrictions.