May. 25 2012
WASHINGTON, DC — We urge the North Carolina General Assembly to reject a legislative committee’s proposal to slash funding for the state’s highly successful tobacco prevention programs and instead maintain funding at the current level of $17.3 million a year. It would be truly penny-wise and pound-foolish for legislators to cut funding for such an effective program that is not only reducing smoking and saving lives, but also saving money by reducing tobacco-related health care costs. If funding is cut, North Carolina will pay a high price with more kids smoking, more lives lost to tobacco and higher tobacco-related health care costs, which already total more than $2.4 billion a year. Even in these difficult budget times, it makes no sense to destroy a program that is saving lives and saving money.
Under a budget proposed by the House Health and Human Services Appropriations subcommittee, North Carolina would allocate only $5.4 million in one-time funding for tobacco prevention programs for kids in grades K-12. This represents a 69 percent cut and would be a big step backward for North Carolina, which previously has dedicated $17.3 million annually for a more comprehensive, science-based program aimed at both preventing kids from smoking and helping smokers quit. We urge the House and Senate to reject this ill-advised budget and restore the program to its former funding level.
North Carolina this year will collect $428 million in revenue from the 1998 state tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes. It would take just four percent of the state’s tobacco revenues to maintain funding for tobacco prevention programs at current levels. Surely North Carolina can continue to use this small slice of its tobacco revenues to fight the state’s leading cause of preventable death.
The subcommittee’s budget would also severely restrict how the tobacco prevention funds could be used and prevent North Carolina from following the best practices recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It would eliminate funding for the state’s toll-free telephone quitline, which provides vital assistance to smokers trying to quit. This action is inexplicable as North Carolina’s quitline has been particularly successful, generating the highest call volume of any state with 26,686 calls so far this year. The budget would also prohibit the use of funds for statewide marketing and media campaigns, which the CDC recommends and have proven highly effective at preventing kids from starting to smoke and encouraging smokers to quit.
North Carolina’s tobacco prevention programs have been highly successful and deserve continued strong support and funding from state leaders. Since 2003, North Carolina has cut high school smoking by 43 percent, middle school smoking by 55 percent and adult smoking by 20 percent. Because of these declines, about 255,000 fewer North Carolina kids will become smokers, nearly 160,000 residents will be saved from premature deaths due to smoking, and the state will save $7.2 billion in future health care costs.
But these gains are at risk if legislators cut funding for tobacco prevention programs and smoking rates start to rise again. Despite its enormous progress in reducing tobacco use, North Carolina cannot afford to let up because 12,200 North Carolina residents die from smoking- related disease and more than 11,100 North Carolina kids become regular smokers each year. The General Assembly should provide $17.3 million a year to continue a program that is protecting kids, saving lives and saving money in North Carolina.