Aug. 11 2001
San Antonio, Texas — A report released today by the National Conference of State Legislatures brings disappointing evidence that the large majority of states are breaking their promise to use proceeds from the 1998 state tobacco settlement to fund effective tobacco prevention programs. In fact, the NCSL report shows that even while some states are making great strides forward, others may be moving backward. The percentage of settlement funds devoted to tobacco prevention has declined from 9.2 percent in fiscal years 2000 and 2001, as shown in last year's report, to just 4.9 percent in fiscal year 2002, according to this year's report. It is shameful that, based on their own national organization's report card, state legislators deserve a failing grade in addressing what is the leading preventable cause of death in our nation today.
The states' failure to act is inexcusable in light of the growing evidence that comprehensive tobacco prevention programs are working to reduce smoking, save money and save lives in the few states that have implemented them. California, Massachusetts, and Arizona have reduced tobacco use far beyond national declines, and Florida cut smoking rates by 40 percent among middle school students and by 18 percent among high school students in just two years. Recent studies show that California's pioneering prevention program is not only reducing tobacco consumption, but also saving lives by reducing rates of heart disease and lung and bronchial cancer.
Unfortunately, only five states — Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Mississippi — are funding tobacco prevention programs at the minimum levels recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (approximately 25 percent of their settlement funds), according to an analysis by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
While state legislators may argue that they are spending the money on other urgent needs, the evidence shows that their failure to allocate enough money for tobacco prevention is the ultimate example of being penny-wise and pound-foolish. Our nation currently spends $89 billion each year on tobacco-related health care costs, much of it borne by state governments. The experience of Massachusetts and California, with two of the nation's oldest tobacco prevention programs, tells us that states will save money in the long run by investing in tobacco prevention now. Massachusetts has reduced direct health care costs by $85 million annually, more than twice as much as the state spends on tobacco prevention. California saved $390 million in the first seven years of its program by reducing heart attacks and strokes caused by smoking. It has also saved over $100 million by reducing the number of pregnant women who smoke.
Lawmakers in states such as Tennessee, which recently used its tobacco settlement funds to balance the state budget, may find themselves plugging short-term holes, but digging far larger ones in the long run by failing to fund tobacco prevention programs. It is also important to note that, even after adequately funding tobacco prevention programs, states will have the bulk of their settlement proceeds left for other needs.
Nearly one out of every three deaths from cancer, one out of five deaths from cardiovascular disease, and 87 percent of lung cancer cases in our nation are attributable to tobacco use. More than 400,000 Americans die of tobacco-related disease each year. Another 3,000 kids become regular smokers every day, one-third of whom will die prematurely as a result. The states' woefully inadequate funding of tobacco prevention programs will result in more lives lost, more kids addicted and higher costs for taxpayers. It's a shameful record all around.