Cigarette tax

Ron DeYoung, of Whitewood, South Dakota, smokes a cigarette at a bar just outside Casper. A recent report says Wyoming is lagging on efforts to prevent cancer, partially because of its low tobacco tax rate.

File, Star-Tribune

Wyoming is lagging on efforts to prevent cancer, and that’s partially related to its low tobacco tax rate and decision not to expand Medicaid, according to a report from a cancer action group.

The report rates states on nine areas related to tobacco, prevention and access to care. Wyoming was found to be “falling short” in cigarette tax rates, smoke-free laws and increased access to Medicaid. The state made some progress in tobacco prevention funding, indoor tanning device restrictions, breast and cervical cancer early detection and Medicaid coverage of tobacco cessation.

Wyoming was found to be “doing well” in just two areas: pain policy and access to palliative care.

That puts Wyoming in the bottom half of states for its cancer-fighting efforts, said Dawn Scott, the Wyoming grassroots manager for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, which put out the report.

Still, it’s an improvement.

“I think we’re on the right path, but just continuing that momentum,” she said. “Especially when it comes to tobacco issues.”

The group identified Wyoming’s low tobacco tax as a problem the state should address. The state’s current tax is 60 cents per pack, the 43rd-lowest rate in the country and more than a dollar short of the national average.

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Wyoming cigarette tax rate

At 60 cents per pack, Wyoming has one of the lowest tobacco cigarette tax rates in the country. 

“Wyoming residents use tobacco at considerably higher rates than the national average,” Jason Mincer, the group’s Wyoming government relations director, said in the press release, “and we know that regular, significant tobacco tax increases of at least $1 per pack are one of the best ways to help current tobacco users quit and prevent kids from ever starting.”

The Wyoming Legislature killed a bill in February that would have raised the state’s cigarette tax by 30 cents. Scott said that effort was encouraging but still below what her group would’ve liked to see.

She added Tuesday that some communities are instituting smoking bans, but most are in a “let and let be” posture. Casper instituted a ban two years ago, and its City Council declined to examine the issue again earlier this year.

She added that Wyoming needed to increase education on the risks of using tobacco, particularly for young people.

Wyoming was also dinged for failing to increase access to Medicaid, a move that more than 30 states have made in the wake of a Supreme Court decision about the Affordable Care Act. Though Republican Gov. Matt Mead supported expansion, the state Legislature refused to expand the program to more Wyomingites in 2016.

A policy paper by the hospital associations from several non-expansion states, including Wyoming, warned that the decision to keep Medicaid as it is could cost the state billions if the Affordable Care Act is repealed. Wyoming already receives less federal money for the program than states that decided to allow more people to enroll.

The state still received good marks for its pain policy and its access to palliative care, a form of treatment typically reserved for patients with serious illnesses that involves pain management and counselors.

Wyoming has a prescription medication monitoring system, and the Legislature passed a bill this year that allows pharmacists to prescribe a drug that can stop fatal opioid overdoses.

Lawmakers also passed a measure to create a palliative care task force that will advise state officials on the treatment plan.

While the report found Wyoming to generally be falling short, the Equality State isn’t alone. Idaho was deemed to be doing well in just one area — pain policy — and needed to make up ground in six others. Colorado, like Wyoming, had three areas in which it was falling short and four that showed some improvement.

Missouri was found to be substandard on five areas and even lower on one. The state has not expanded Medicaid and has the lowest tax rate — 17 cents a pack — in the nation.

South Carolina did not score top marks in a single category and was substandard in seven of eight.

Follow education reporter Seth Klamann on Twitter @SethKlamann

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Seth Klamann joined the Star-Tribune in 2016 and covers education and health. A 2015 graduate of the University of Missouri and proud Kansas City native, Seth worked for newspapers in Milwaukee and Omaha before coming to Casper.

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