Teens in parts of DC region smoking more tobacco than national average

Is your teen vaping? Nearly one in four high schoolers in Maryland and Virginia are using tobacco in some way, and state governments are taking vastly different approaches when it comes to smoking and tobacco use, according to a new report.

The American Lung Association’s State of Tobacco report claims D.C. is using policies to try to curb habits, while Virginia is not.

“Electronic cigarette use vaping is at an epidemic level and our youth are using these products,” said American Lung Association Director of Advocacy Aleks Casper.

According to data from the 2023 report, both Virginia and Maryland are seeing higher rates of high school tobacco usage than the national average.

She said data shows that teens are especially drawn to flavored vapes, including mint and menthol.

“And it’s important because a lot of times people start or initiate tobacco use with those flavored products,” said Casper.

In its “State of Tobacco,” the association applauded D.C.’s flavored tobacco ban that went into effect in October of 2021 giving an “A” for its handling of flavored tobacco products.

“That’s great policy, and now we just work on the enforcement and make sure that these products are actually removed from the market,” said Casper.

The District also received an “A” for Smokefree Air and tobacco taxes, it has the highest tax in the country at $4.50 per pack of cigarettes.

“We know that when we increase tax, we decrease consumption,” Casper said. “That’s an evidence based tool.”

Maryland received a “C” for tobacco taxes, but Casper said the group is happy about the recent $1.75 tobacco tax increase passed in 2021 by the General Assembly.

Meanwhile, Virginia received failing grades in almost every category including smokefree air, tobacco prevention and cessation funding and tobacco taxes.

At a 60 cents per pack tax, Virginia has one of the lowest in the country.

Beyond raising taxes, the American Lung Association has numerous policy suggestions for the Commonwealth, including licensing retailers for tobacco sales and ending health insurance tobacco surcharges.

Currently, a tobacco surcharge allows insurance carriers to charge someone who uses tobacco more than someone who doesn’t.

“There’s some data that shows that that is not effective and actually prevents people from seeking care and from getting coverage,” said Casper.

It estimates that D.C., Maryland and Virginia spend about $7.1 billion a year on health care due to smoking.

Full grades for each state can be seen for the District, Maryland and Virginia at American Lung Association’s website.

Luke Lukert

Since joining WTOP Luke Lukert has held just about every job in the newsroom from producer to web writer and now he works as a full-time reporter. He is an avid fan of UGA football. Go Dawgs!

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