Apr. 29 1999
Washington, DC - A report released today by the CAMPAIGN FOR TOBACCO-FREE KIDS and the American Heart Association finds that governors and state legislators are failing to fund tobacco prevention programs aimed at reducing youth tobacco use, even though recent evidence shows that these programs are effective. The report, titled “The Aftermath of the States’ Tobacco Settlement: A Mid-Term Report” looks at how states are planning to spend the billions in settlement funds they will receive as a result of last fall’s agreement between the state Attorneys General and the tobacco industry. The Attorneys General lawsuits were brought to recover the health costs associated with tobacco use. “If states don’t allocate the money they receive from the tobacco settlement to anti-smoking programs, they are going to miss an historic opportunity to both save lives by protecting kids and save taxpayers the future costs of tobacco disease,” said American Heart Association chief executive officer Cass Wheeler. “In too many cases, state legislators are ignoring the recent evidence showing that tobacco prevention programs -- especially those aimed at youth -- do work. If the states dedicate just a portion of the settlement funds -- around 25 percent -- toward these types of programs, the results will be monumental.” The CAMPAIGN report comes at the mid-term of the state legislative sessions. According to the report, a majority of states have yet to decide how to spend the settlement funds. Four states have made a commitment to fund tobacco prevention programs beyond a minimal level, and eight other states are considering such proposals. However, in at least one-third of all states and the District of Columbia, the legislature has decided or the Governor has proposed spending less than two percent of settlement dollars on tobacco prevention programs. In these states, the debate has been dominated by proposals for spending the money on everything but the purposes for which the lawsuits were brought, including, for example, proposals to reduce the car tax in Rhode Island; property tax reductions in Connecticut; college scholarships in Michigan; water projects and plans to renovate the state morgue in North Dakota; state employee payroll demands and health care for prisoners in South Dakota; debt reduction in Louisiana, Idaho and New York; school construction in Colorado and Washington, DC; teacher retirement funds in Oklahoma; a new governmental department in Georgia; juvenile detention facilities in Alabama; sidewalk repair in Los Angeles, California; and public employees’ insurance in West Virginia. Another seven states have adopted, or appear likely to adopt, proposals which will have to compete each year to get refunded. In nine states, the decision on how to spend the settlement money has been deferred until next year. “State legislators need to understand that they hold the key to reducing the most preventable cause of death in America,” said Bill Novelli, CAMPAIGN president. “All they have to do is dedicate the funds to effective prevention programs, such as those in California; Massachusetts; Oregon and Florida, where youth tobacco use has declined less than a year after the program was initiated. It is critical that legislators are aware that their decisions will either protect kids and save lives, or waste an historic opportunity.” Despite a lobbying effort by the National Governor’s Association, the federal government does have a claim to the settlement funds, according to the CAMPAIGN report. Congress is currently considering legislation that would waive the federal claim to this money. The report concludes that unless the Congress requires the states to dedicate a portion of the funds to tobacco programs, most states will end up with no tobacco prevention programs, and the federal government’s tobacco-caused Medicaid bill will continue to rise. According to Matthew L. Myers, CAMPAIGN executive vice president and general counsel, “We do not oppose a federal waiver of the tobacco funds, as long as the states are required to spend at least 25 percent of them on tobacco programs. The federal government funds nearly 58 percent of the Medicaid program and is entitled to ensure that its bills do not increase as a result of a misuse of the settlement money.” The CAMPAIGN report also finds a large disparity between the state legislatures’ actions and the desires of the voting public. According to a survey* conducted for the CAMPAIGN from April 23-25 and cited in the report: Eighty-five percent of registered voters favor their state spending a significant portion of its settlement funds on efforts to reduce tobacco use among kids. Eighty-two percent of the voters polled said they would favor spending 25 percent of the state’s tobacco settlement money on a comprehensive plan to prevent tobacco use among kids and to help smokers quit; Seventy-five percent of the voters surveyed said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports a proposal to spend 25 percent of the money on a tobacco prevention program, while just 18 percent said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who opposes such a proposal. Seventy-eight percent of registered voters believe the federal government should require states to spend at least 25 percent of the settlement money on tobacco prevention programs it if waives its claim to a share of the money. “State legislators are ignoring the fact that more kids are smoking, they are ignoring the evidence that tobacco programs do work, and they are ignoring their own constituents,” said Wheeler. “It’s time they realize that the reason they are getting this money is because the tobacco industry’s marketing efforts were so successful in hooking kids for decades, and millions of them eventually became sick and died. Unless the states reverse course, the real losers will be our nation’s children and the states’ taxpayers, who will pay to care for another generation of sick adults lured into tobacco addiction in their teens.” The CAMPAIGN’s nationwide random survey of 868 registered voters interviewed by telephone was conducted April 23-25, 1999 by Market Facts’ TeleNation. The poll has a margin of error of +/- 3.3 percentage points. Click here for the complete Mid-Term Report. The Washington, DC-based CAMPAIGN FOR TOBACCO-FREE KIDS is the largest initiative ever undertaken to decrease youth tobacco use in the United States. Its mandate is to focus the nation’s attention and action on keeping tobacco marketing from seducing children and making tobacco less accessible to kids. The CAMPAIGN was founded in September 1995. The American Heart Association spent more than $312 million during fiscal year 1997-98 on research support, public and professional education and community programs. With more than four million volunteers, the American Heart Association is the largest voluntary health organization fighting heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases, which annually kill more than 959,000 Americans.