Maine invests too little toward preventing residents from picking up tobacco but improved efforts to help smokers quit, according to an annual report released Wednesday.

Maine’s mixed performance in the American Lung Association’s 2015 “State of Tobacco Control” report comes less than a week after a public health group decried proposed cuts to anti-smoking programs in Gov. Paul LePage’s two-year budget.

Tobacco causes an estimated 2,235 deaths in Maine each year and costs the state’s economy more than $1 billion in health care expenses and lost productivity, according to the report.

The annual report, now in its 13th year, tracks tobacco control policies, assigning grades to the United States as a whole and each state based on whether laws “protect citizens from the toll tobacco use takes on lives,” according to a Wednesday news release announcing the latest report.

Nationally, progress in halting the use of tobacco has reached a “virtual standstill,” with most states and the federal government earning poor grades, the report found.

“Maine has a long history of being a leader in tobacco control policies, but Maine’s report card has gone from stellar straight As in 2005 to a mediocre mix of grades in 2015,” Jeff Seyler, president and CEO of the American Lung Association of the Northeast, said in the release. “We are grateful for the support of the Maine Legislature in significantly improving access to cessation services for smokers who want to quit, but much more can be done.”

Maine earned D grades for investments in anti-tobacco policies and for failing to increase the tax on cigarettes. The state spends less than 60 percent of the amount the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends to prevent smoking. The report recommended Maine lawmakers boost the cigarette tax from $2 to at least $3.50 per pack, a move LePage previously has opposed.

The state improved its score on cessation efforts, from a D last year to a B in 2015. The report’s cessation grade indicates how well a state helps tobacco users quit, particularly Medicaid beneficiaries and state employees. A year ago, the Maine House and Senate overrode a veto by LePage on a bill requiring MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid program, to fully fund tobacco-cessation treatment. (The lung association cautioned against direct comparisons to last year’s report because of revised methodology in 2015).

Maine’s best grade was an A for smokefree air policies, which limit exposure to secondhand smoke by restricting tobacco use in government buildings, workplaces, bars and restaurants, and other public areas.

“With two Ds on our report card, there is much room for improvement in Maine,” Ed Miller, senior vice president of public policy at the American Lung Association of the Northeast, said in the release. “Leaders in our state must take steps to preserve and adequately fund prevention programs that help keep our kids off tobacco.”

Maine’s anti-smoking program — funded by the 1998 landmark tobacco settlement agreement with major cigarette makers — historically has ranked among the most successful nationally. Maine reduced cigarette smoking rates among high school students by 67 percent, from 40 percent in 1997 to 13 percent in 2013.

LePage’s budget “drastically” reduces funding for the state’s tobacco program and “all but eliminates” the Healthy Maine Partnerships, coalitions that address tobacco and other health problems in the community, the Maine Public Health Association said last week. The governor proposed redirecting $10 million to support other health initiatives, including maintaining reimbursement rates for primary care providers.

“Pitting prevention funding against primary care is a false choice,” Miller said in the release. “Enacting a $1.50 increase in the cigarette tax would generate over $40 million annually, providing revenue to fund health priorities. It would also prevent kids from starting to smoke and result in almost 10,000 Mainers quitting smoking.”

Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew said in a statement last week the proposal also funds better management of chronic diseases, including illnesses caused by tobacco. The proposed budget prioritizes limited resources in the best interests of Maine people, she said.

“The tobacco settlement funds must be evaluated for their effectiveness in meeting that goal just like any other dollar that is spent by state government,” Mayhew said.

Jackie Farwell

I'm the health editor for the Bangor Daily News, a Bangor native, a UMaine grad, and a weekend crossword warrior. I never get sick of writing about Maine people, geeking out over health care data, and...