If Wyoming really wants to reduce the costs of Medicaid, the legislature must break its addiction to tobacco companies and get serious about strategies proven to reduce the use of this deadly product.
The American Lung Association issued a report card on the public health mission of decreasing tobacco use through evidence based practices such as increasing tobacco taxes, promoting smoke-free policies and funding comprehensive tobacco prevention programs.
In the four categories, Wyoming received a B, a C and two F’s. The higher grades went to programs for which the Department of Health is responsible. The F’s were received in areas where the legislature has been a poor partner to public health advocates but a good partner to big tobacco and bar owners.
Wyoming’s tobacco prevention programs scored high. Only two states received an A. Wyoming and two others were awarded B’s. Wyoming is in the top five for the quality of its tobacco programs which counter tobacco industry messages intended to get kids to start smoking and help stop the use of tobacco products.
Wyoming and 6 other sates received C’s for helping smokers quit. Only one state received a B and no one an A. Wyoming was robbed. Wyoming has one of the most accessible and supportive Quit Lines in the nation. Smokers receive significant help, including free medications and coaching by calling 1-800-QUIT NOW (1-800-784-8669 or by going to wy.quitnet.com.
Quitting is not as difficult as it once was. The chances of success greatly increase if the smoker gets medications and counseling. Among the 2,500 participants, outcomes demonstrate why Wyoming deserved a better than average C. At 3 months post-enrollment, 35% of participants reported no tobacco use for the past 30 days. At 6 months post-enrollment, 41% reported no tobacco use for the past 30 days.
There were two other categories where all states were graded. Both require the legislature to choose between tobacco companies and public health. Wyoming joined mostly southern tobacco states in receiving an F in both.
The first rated states on the adoption of smoke-free laws. These laws protect workers and others from the harm of secondhand smoke. They have proved to protect health and provide an incentive for smokers to quit. The Wyoming legislature has chosen to support bar owners and big tobacco rather than protecting public health. Wyoming has increasingly isolated itself from a majority of states. Only 12 states received a failing grade in this category, Wyoming was the only one outside the south. All surrounding states received A’s except Idaho and South Dakota who got B’s. It could be that we are right and all of them are wrong, but research says it’s the other way around.
Finally, states were rated on the level of tobacco taxes. Research is clear, he higher the tax, the fewer smokers. For every 10 percent increase in price, the number of children who start smoking is reduced by 7 percent. Higher taxes also result in less tobacco use among low-income persons, many of whom receive Medicaid.
Wyoming and 14 other mostly tobacco-growing states received an F. I wouldn’t mind this so much if Wyoming was growing tobacco but we are trying to grow healthy children.
This is why you and your legislator should care. The smoking rate among Wyoming Medicaid recipients is three times the general population. Wyoming spent an estimated $40 million treating smoking-related diseases among the adult Medicaid population. That doesn’t include health costs for children from second hand smoke.
If Wyoming wants to reduce healthcare costs, you can’t get there from here unless we get serious about reducing tobacco use. The next time you hear your legislator complain about the cost of Medicaid, ask them how they voted on bills that could go a long way toward reducing those costs and the health problems for which they pay.