Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV


January 19, 2013

Tobacco control — Findings of new study unfortunate

A new report from the American Lung Association gives the state of West Virginia a failing grade as it relates to preventing tobacco usage. And, unfortunately, our local counties also scored poorly in the new study.

The association’s 11th annual “State of Tobacco Control” for 2012 gave Mercer and McDowell counties a grade of “C” while Monroe County received a better “B” grade for their tobacco policies. The state of West Virginia received an “F” grade in all four categories in which states were judged, including funding for tobacco prevention and control programs, smoke-free air, cigarette taxes, and cessation coverage.

In order to receive a passing “A” grade in the study, counties had to have smoking prohibited in all public places and workplaces, among other requirements.

Travis Helmandollar, director of the Southern Coalfields Tobacco Prevention Network, said he and other officials with Community Connections are in the process of reviewing the report before coming up with a plan of action to address the renewed concerns.

“We are working with county coalition leaders in our six southern counties including McDowell, Mercer, Monroe, Raleigh, Summers and Wyoming counties to pinpoint specific problematic areas in their county,” Helmandollar said earlier this week. “We provide them resources to alleviate those issues.”

In addition to cessation programs, Helmandollar said local health advocates are working to make local and state parks in the region tobacco-free.

“One of our main goals this year is to increase rules and regulations for tobacco-free parks,” Helmandollar said. “We are working with several parks and recreation leaders to prevent all tobacco use in public recreation areas, which is a recommended and proven effective model especially for targeting youth. We want this to be comprehensive across the board.”

The coalition also provides cessation classes, workshops and resources to various demographics, including a series of school-based programs for tobacco education and cessation. The coalition also is pushing the West Virginia Tobacco Quitline, or 1-800-QUIT-NOW.

While the Mercer County Health Department encourages area residents not to smoke, the agency has discontinued tobacco cessation programs due to a lack of interest, according to Judy Bolton, RN, a public health nurse with the health department.

Deb Brown, president and CEO of the American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic region, believes the state is falling behind on tobacco control issues because lawmakers are not investing adequately in the fight against tobacco. He states that leaders in Charleston must provide smokers with the support they need to quit while also adequately funding programs that help to keep children off of tobacco.

Brown is correct. The state must make a more serious effort to protect children against tobacco, and to help those citizens who are looking for assistance.

We do believe that local coalition leaders are doing a good job in helping to educate area residents and youth about the dangers of tobacco. But it looks like they will need some additional help from state lawmakers in improving our individual county rankings.

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