Michigan lags in preventing tobacco use but more funds, new laws could change that

Print More
Sen. Sam Singh, D-East Lansing, is one of the sponsors of pending legislation to tighten control over tobacco sales to minors.
Sen. Sam Singh, D-East Lansing, is one of the sponsors of pending legislation to tighten control over tobacco sales to minors.

Capital News Service 

LANSING — Michigan received a failing grade on tobacco prevention and cessation funding in the American Lung Association’s recent 2024 State of Tobacco Control report.

Michigan ranks last, tied with West Virginia, for its spending on programs that help adults quit using tobacco products, allocating only $1.8 million a year. 

However, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has proposed boosting that to $5 million for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. 

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, recommends that the state budget $110.6 million for such programs, Michigan’s anti-smoking activists see Whitmer’s proposed increase as a step in the right direction. 

Molly Medenblik, the government relations director for the American Cancer Society Action Network in Michigan, said the state ranks 15th in the percentage of adult smokers and has historically been among the top states in tobacco use.

According to the state Department of Health and Human Services, the proportion of smokers above the age of 18 is 15.2%. The national figure is 13.5%. 

Medenblik said higher spending could raise awareness of smoking-related health problems, educating young people in hope that they never start smoking.. 

“We’re not doing a good job in the state, so we are kind of throwing that life line out to the people who are trying to quit because it’s an addiction, right?” Medenblik said. “We want the people that are trying to quit to know there are resources available at the state level.”

While Medenblik said the extra money could be a start, she emphasized that tobacco companies spend $300 million on advertising in Michigan alone, dwarfing the dollars allocated for anti-tobacco programs. 

Karen Brown, the tobacco dependence treatment coordinator for the Tobacco Control Program in Health and Human Services, has been working with the program since 1999. 

She said that while the prevalence of smoking has decreased since she started, that’s largely due to the programs the department works with to make resources accessible in local centers like health departments. 

With the proposed boost, Brown said greater outreach could get resources like counselors and therapy to everyone who wants to quit using tobacco.

One way the department provides outreach is grants and mini-grants to nonprofits such as the Urban League in Grand Rapids and Making It Count Community Development Corp. in Detroit. The money can be used for more advertising on the importance of quitting tobacco. 

Brown said those groups work heavily with African Americans because they use tobacco at a higher rate than other groups. According to the CDC in 2019, 21.9% of Black adults reported smoking,while 17.9% of white adults did.

Another project that would receive more money under Whitmer’s budget plan is Michigan’s QuitLink, a free program that people can participate in by calling or texting an online coaching service to help them make a plan to quit tobacco. 

The department also provides nicotine replacement therapy to replace cigarettes with nicotine gum, patches and other methods, to underinsured smokers with behavioral health or physical health diagnoses like cancer. The therapy includes a coach to help keep patients on track to quitting.

Brown said, “If we were to increase funding, we would be able to increase that program so that everybody got everything.” 

One problem is youth becoming addicted to vaping and nicotine products. Medenblik said the increase of vaping products in different flavors targets children. 

According to the Citizens Research Council of Michigan, 14% of high schoolers in the state use e-cigarettes. 

Brown said the increased funding could be used to target schools and youth organizations through paid advertising campaigns to teach children what tobacco does to their health and why quitting is so hard once they start. 

Brown said the department is meeting with local health departments that have personal relationships with public schools, particularly school nurses and counselors, to start anti-tobacco education.

Meanwhile,bills pending in the Senate Regulatory Reform Committee would change taxes on  tobacco products, increase penalties for minors buying tobacco and require licenses to sell such products. 

Sponsors include Democratic Sens. Stephanie Chang, of Detroit, Sue Shink of Northfield Township, John Cherry of Flint and Veronica Kleinfelt of Eastpointe. 

Sen. Sam Singh, D-East Lansing, is another sponsor. He said that Michigan is one of the few states that doesn’t require a retail license to sell tobacco, meaning businesses face no state penalties for selling tobacco products to underage smokers.

“It’s clear when I talked to principals of high schools or middle schools that there’s a huge vaping problem amongst young people,” Singh said. “Obviously, these products are not meant to be sold to them.”

“I want to make sure that we have a license system in place that incentivizes people to follow the law and ensure that any type of smoking product stays out of the hands of young people,” he said.

In the past, local counties like Ingham County’s health department had their own enforcement programs for places like gas stations selling to minors, using underage decoys to catch retailers in the act. Now, Singh wants statewide regulations and programs to enforce this.

Singh said he believes that a combination of the $5 million and the pending legislation could benefit young people through tighter regulations and resources to help those already addicted to tobacco. 

Brown said the proposed budget is “just another step” in continuing the momentum of existing programs. 

“Our goal is to get that use rate down to see a generation that never started smoking,” Brown said. “Whether we’ll see that in my lifetime, I don’t know. But that is our goal.”

Comments are closed.