Low cigarettes taxes and few restrictions on public smoking earned Wyoming poor marks in an American Lung Association report released this week.
The state received better scores for its tobacco prevention spending and the resources it offers for people trying to quit.
In its State of Tobacco Control report, the lung association graded each state on its policies toward smoking. Wyoming received "F" grades for its 60-cent cigarette tax and its limited restrictions on public smoking. It earned a "B" for spending more than $6.7 million on anti-tobacco efforts -- 75 percent of the amount recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Wyoming received a "C" grade for its programs designed to help people stop smoking.
Smoking kills an estimated 700 people a year in Wyoming and costs the state's economy more $315 million annually in health care costs and lost productivity, according to the report.
The lung association released its findings Thursday, the same day state lawmakers killed a bill that would have given county commissions and local health boards the power to enact public smoking bans.
Sen. Charles Scott, R- Casper, sponsored the latest bill. He wasn't surprised Wyoming scored poorly on its smoking restrictions.
"If you think that smoking restrictions are a good idea – and I do, because they do save lives – yeah, we earned it," he said.
A handful of cities have enacted smoke-free regulations, but past attempts at a statewide public smoking ban have been defeated in the Legislature. An recent effort to prohibit workplace smoking in Natrona County was also unsuccessful.
Scott said he sponsored his latest bill after critics argued the matter should be decided locally. Now that his legislation has failed, he suggested it might soon be time for another attempt at a statewide prohibition.
"Sooner or later, we'll pass it," he said. "We're gradually making smoking socially unacceptable, because it is harmful, and it is harmful to people that don't smoke. And when you're doing something that's harmful to everybody else, it's reasonable that you should be restricted."
Comprehensive public smoking bans now exist in 27 states, according to the report. But Rep. Frank Peasley, R-Douglas, doesn't think Wyoming should worry about rushing to follow their lead.
"There is something frustrating to me about this drum beat that we have to be like everybody else," he said.
Peasley said he supports educating children about the dangers of smoking. But he objects to government telling people they can't light up.
"Why do you people want to enslave yourselves to regulatory things?" he asked.
Even without a statewide public smoking ban, Wyoming has made progress on discouraging tobacco use, said State Health Officer Dr. Brent Sherard.
Wyoming has also established a website and telephone line that provide information for people who are trying to quit. Cities like Laramie and Cheyenne have placed restrictions on public smoking. Many business owners have also decided to make their establishments smoke free.
"This type of report doesn't give them credit for that," he said.
Still, smoking remains the state's number one health issue from Sherard's perspective.
"It's a battle we can't back down on," he said. "We need to continue doing everything we can to get people off cigarettes and smokeless tobacco."
Reach reporter Joshua Wolfson at (307) 266-0582 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit http://trib.com/news/opinion/blogs/wolfjammies/ to read his blog. Follow him on Twitter @joshwolfson.