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Massachusetts earns failing grade for smoking prevention

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The American Lung Association released its annual report card on how well the nation is doing when it comes to reducing smoking rates, and once again, Massachusetts earned two failing grades for its tobacco prevention and smoking cessation programs. The state earned an “F” for spending only $9.9 million, in state and federal funds, on prevention programs; that’s far less than the $90 million recommended by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s also the same level spent by the state in 2010 and below than the $14 million in funding for 2008.

Massachusetts also earned an “F” for its coverage of medications and counseling to help smokers quit, investing just $1.26 per smoker compared to the CDC recommended investment of $10.53.

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The state earned an “A” for its smoke-free air, thanks to a ban on smoking in restaurants, bars, and other public places and a “B” for its cigarette tax which is $2.51 per pack of 20. And it fared better than many other states, like Missouri, Mississippi, and Kentucky, that received failing grades in all four categories.

At the press conference to announce the latest report card grades, however, the biggest buzz centered around new smokeless tobacco products -- flavored mints, strips and sticks -- being rolled out by cigarette manufacturers like R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. They’ve been test-marketed in several cities (none in New England), and the US Food and Drug Administration is meeting this week to determine whether they should regulate them more strictly than cigarettes.

“They’re much easier for kids to hide than a cigarette,” said Erika Sward, American Lung Association Director of National Advocacy at the press briefing. And the packaging “looks like a cellphone in someone’s pocket,” rather than a bulky cigarette pack.

Experts have also expressed concern that young children may ingest the products accidentally and develop nicotine poisoning. “The new Camel dissolvables have a clear appeal to children. They look like candy, are flavored like candy,” reads the website of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids. “The Orbs are pellets of ground tobacco resembling tic tacs, while the Strips are flat sheets of ground tobacco that work like dissolvable breath strips or even dissolvable medication strips for children.”

Deborah Kotz can be reached at dkotz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @debkotz2.
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