May. 22 2000
Washington, DC — The D.C. City Council is on the verge of squandering a rare opportunity to do some something meaningful about tobacco addiction among kids in the District. By seriously considering a proposal to earmark the District's share of the 1998 multi-state tobacco settlement for debt service and short-term building needs instead of tobacco prevention, the Council is turning its back on the children of the District. If the Council ultimately votes to sell the payments from the tobacco settlement at a discounted rate, it will succeed in lining the pockets of Wall Street brokers to the disadvantage of District taxpayers.
The District needs a comprehensive tobacco prevention program such as the ones already saving lives and millions of taxpayer dollars in Florida, California, Massachusetts and other states. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the District should be spending between $7.5 and $14.6 million annually on tobacco prevention. Currently, the city has no specific funds earmarked for protecting kids from tobacco addition. It is disgraceful that the City Council gives children's health such a low priority.
The tobacco settlement was intended to cover the cost of treating sick smokers, not to meet the city's financial shortfalls. The District is already spending more than $310 million every year on healthcare costs directly related to tobacco. Twenty-two percent of the District's high school students are regular smokers. If current trends continue, 4,000 D.C. kids under 18 who are alive today will die prematurely from smoking caused disease.
The D.C. Council needs to understand the importance of tobacco prevention and stop viewing the money from the tobacco settlement as a honey pot. It is not too late for the Council to do the right thing, and devote a significant portion of the District's tobacco settlement payments to a comprehensive prevention program that would ultimately save hundreds of lives and millions of dollars. To do anything less would be a public health tragedy.