Virginia is failing in tobacco prevention as smokers see an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19


RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Centers for Disease Control has concluded smokers have an increased risk for a severe illness from COVID-19. Yet a new report shows Virginia is still failing when it comes to tobacco prevention and control.

Virginia gets F’s across the board The American Lung Association annual “State of Tobacco Control” report card for 2021. Dr. Bobby Mahajan, Director of Interventional Pulmonology at Inova Fairfax Hospital said that’s especially worrisome right now.

“It is one of the few things that is approved that if used correctly, will actually kill you,” he said.

Smoking injures the local defenses in the lungs by increasing mucus production and inflammation. Dr. Mahajan said that puts smokers are at a higher risk for a more serious COVID-19 infection, hospitalization and death.

“When you get infected by COVID your body is so overrun and overwhelmed by the inflammatory process the other medical problems are really exacerbated,” Dr. Mahajan said.

The severe side effects for smokers have prompted states like Mississippi, New Jersey and Massachusetts to give smokers vaccine priority over some essential workers. That has drawn criticism.

If you don’t smoke, you may wonder why you should care about getting those who choose the habit vaccinated or help with quitting.

“Covid-19 hits them the hardest and as a result it puts the most stress on our medical system,” said Dr. Mahajan. And, he added that we, the taxpayers, all end up paying for it.

The strain on our health system is partly why The American Lung Association said Virginia could do more to help smokers, including e-cigarette users, to kick the habit and prevent new users. The association is especially concerned about youth. While the CDC recommends states spend $91 million dollars a year on tobacco prevention and control, Virginia spends just $10 million.

The association also calls for an increase the in the cigarette tax.

“Yes, Virginia raised the tobacco tax last year as part of the Governor’s budget,” said Aleks Casper Director of Advocacy for the American Lung Association of Virginia. “Unfortunately it is still one of the lowest tobacco tax rates in the country.”

She said data shows that when you increase the tax, people reduce consumption. A bill currently in the Virginia General Assembly would require it.

“It allows stakeholders and enforcement agencies to get a handle on who exactly is selling these products,” Casper said.

She added the measure would help monitor who is selling tobacco in the state and help keep the products out of the hands of anyone under 21. Retailers fear the bill will just put additional costs on small businesses.

You can read the full report, which includes information about teens vaping, here.

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