On November 4, 2015, Alabama’s acting State Health Officer Thomas Miller signed a letter in support of the Alabama State Plan for Tobacco Prevention and Control 2015-2020. The plan is a statewide initiative to reduce the effects of tobacco on the population through media campaigns, organizational partnerships, and policy revisions.
In the letter, Dr. Miller states that tobacco is the “leading cause of preventable death in the United States and in Alabama.”1 There are over 8,600 smoking-related deaths each year in Alabama, which costs over $4 billion in healthcare costs and lost productivity. Those statistics alone prove the plan’s importance.
The Addiction Prevention Coalition is part of this plan, even being a named entity in the certified 2020 Alabama budget under the Alabama Department of Health.2 We want this plan (and the future iteration) to succeed! But there are a few barriers standing in the way of those goals.
The plan is segmented into three categories: Prevention, Cessation, and Protection.
Overview of the ASPTPC Goals
Prevention aims to “reduce tobacco use and initiation among middle and high school students.” The plan to achieve this goal is to educate legislators on the benefits of increasing the cigarette exercise tax, educate youth on the dangers of tobacco use, and encourage more school administrations to implement 100 percent comprehensive smoke-free/tobacco-free policies.
The goals of the cessation arm of the plan aim to reduce tobacco use among adults and help those who use tobacco products quit. The executive summary states, “Tobacco control efforts will increase smokers’ readiness and desire to quit by providing cessation information and resources, and a health care environment supportive of quitting tobacco use.”
Many of the goals have a statistical target like these:
- increase the proportion of adults trying to quit smoking from 55.4% to 57%,
- decrease the smoking rate for all adults from 21.5% to 18%,
- Collaborate with Alabama Health care insurers to assess cessation treatment and provide information to members
The third goal is the protection of the public through reducing exposure to secondhand smoke (SHS). Broadly, the goal is set to increase the number of smoke-free city policies, smoke-free/tobacco-free university policies, and increase the number of public housing communities with smoke-free policies.
It Is 2020, Now What?
The goals outlined in the Plan for Tobacco Prevention and Control are data driven and have a set deadline, March of 2020. This is great, and exactly how it should be. For each goal, the plan offers the data that supports why that goal is being set. For each objective, there is a specific change outlined, like in the Cessation section: increase the proportion of adults trying to quit smoking from 55.4% to 57%. All of these objectives should be completed and evaluated by 2020.
But the problem is, finding recent data for these statistics is difficult. Even the tools the Alabama Department of Health refers to don’t always have complete data sets. For example, if you want to see how Prevention efforts are doing (we do), you’d visit the CDC State Tobacco Activities Tracking and Evaluation (STATE) System. For the map of current cigarette use among youth, the data isn’t available for Alabama.
The same is true for other data sets. Maybe an organization like the American Heart Association wants to see how many people were using the Quitline service, a phone hotline for people to find resources to quit smoking. The most recent data is from Quarter 3 of 2018. This lack of current data makes it difficult to measure the progress of the plans Cessation efforts.
At the time of writing this, we have also passed the five year mark from when State Health Officer signed that letter supporting the Plan for Tobacco Prevention and Control. This is not being critical of the Alabama Department of Health; clearly there are bigger concerns right now with the pandemic. But we have yet to see 2020-2025 plan to fix Alabama’s “leading cause of preventable death.” We have yet to see the data that measures how close the plan came to its goals.
The Addiction Prevention Coalition is grateful and humbled to be a part of Alabama’s plan to end tobacco use, for adults and the youth. We are excited to play a role in making the public safer. But we, just as the rest of Alabama, need this plan to guide our efforts. We need cooperation between organizations to share data and pool resources. We need accurate and relevant data to see how these initiatives performed. and most of all, we need a new roadmap to plot the course for the next five years. The health of the public depends on it.
- Alabama State Plan for Tobacco Prevention and Control 2015-2020
- State General Fund Appropriations Comparison Sheet for Fiscal Year 2020
Written by: Hunter Freeman