RWJF Funds Study on State Laws Discouraging Tobacco Control Measures

February 4, 2019

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A new study, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Policies for Action program and led by Dr. Tony Yang, will examine the impact of state laws enacted or repealed between 1997 and 2017 that pre-emptively prohibit tobacco control measures have had on public health in the United States.

These preemptive laws run counter to public health tobacco control efforts. Effective tobacco control efforts include restrictions on marketing and promoting, tobacco products, licensing tobacco, whether young people have access to tobacco products, and where smoking is allowed. Preemptive laws block local governments from taking these steps to protect public health.

"Although a consensus exists among tobacco control practitioners that preemption adversely impacts tobacco control efforts, there are limited empirical evidence to quantify its effects on adolescent health and health disparities,” said Dr. Yang, professor and health services and policy researcher at GW Nursing.

Cigarette smoking causes more than 480,000, or almost one in five deaths each year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). That means smoking kills more than HIV, illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries and firearm-related incidents.

More than 3,200 young people under 18 years old become daily cigarette smokers each day in the United States, according to the CDC, making youth access to tobacco products a key public health issue.

Dr. Yang’s team will also examine whether majority-minority counties are disproportionately impacted by state pre-emption laws, potentially exacerbating health disparities between racial and ethnic groups.

Although African-Americans usually smoke fewer cigarettes and start smoking cigarettes at an older age, they are more likely to die from smoking-related diseases than white Americans, according to the CDC. Cigarette smoking among lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBTQ) individuals in the U.S. is higher than among heterosexual individuals, with about one in five LGBTQ adults smoking cigarettes compared with about one in six heterosexual/straight adults, according to the CDC.