Emily Rice Published

Senate Health Committee Focuses On Tobacco Cessation and Lung Health

Two hands are seen smoking cigarettes with smoke standing stark against a black background.Victoria Alexandrova/iStockphoto

If Senate Bill 378 is signed into law, a person 18 or older would not be allowed to possess or smoke a lit tobacco product in a motor vehicle when a person 16 years or younger is present.

Violators of the possible new law could be charged with a misdemeanor and subject to a $25 fine if they’re already being pulled over for committing another code violation.

Sen. Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha and vice chair of the committee, spoke in favor of passage of the bill.

“It’s the most severe thing in terms of fear of any patient when they have a condition where they literally can’t breathe,” Takubo said. “And when you’re in a confined space, like a vehicle, these kids’ asthma flare tremendously.”

The bill was passed by the Senate Committee on Health and Human Resources and now heads to the full Senate for their consideration.

Senate Bill 514 was also considered by the committee. This bill creates the Lung Cancer Screening and Education Act, directing the West Virginia Department of Health to establish a public education outreach campaign to publicize lung cancer screening and education services.

According to counsel, the bill also creates a fund that would be annually funded by $100,000 from tobacco tax funding and may include money appropriated by the legislature or by the federal government. The bill also allows for public and private funding sources.

To qualify for a lung screening under Senate Bill 514, a patient’s income must be at or below 300 percent of the federal poverty level. Also, the patient must be medically eligible, which includes, but is not limited to 50 to 80-year-olds who have at least a “20 pack year” smoking history and who are currently smoke, or have quit within the past 15 years.

The bill describes a “pack year” as smoking an average of one pack of cigarettes per day for one year. So based upon the language in the bill, a person would have a 20-pack-year history of smoking one pack a day for 20 years.

The fund must be the patient’s last resort and payment for the procedure can be adjusted yearly based upon inflation.

Takubo also spoke in favor of Senate Bill 514, citing statistics from 1950 to show just how far the United States has not come.

“When you go back to 1950, the overall survival for lung cancer was 8 percent,” Takubo said. “Speed all the way up to 2013 and the survival rate only went to 15 percent. It hadn’t even doubled – a 7 percent improvement in 63 years in advances in medicine.”

Takubo said the availability of lung screenings could save lives.

“If you’re in that high risk pool, just getting a low-dose CAT scan, you lay on the table, hold your breath, in and out,” Takubo said. “It’s that fast. No needle sticks, no contrast. That one test alone decreased the risk of dying by 20 percent.”

Takubo also said that about 8 percent of West Virginians qualify for a screening.

Appalachia Health News is a project of West Virginia Public Broadcasting with support from Charleston Area Medical Center and Marshall Health.