Dec. 5 2001
Washington, DC — As New Jersey's leaders address the state's budget crunch, we urge Governor-elect Jim McGreevey and the Legislature not to cut the $30 million a year in tobacco settlement money that the state currently spends on tobacco prevention. Even in these difficult budget times, tobacco prevention is one of the smartest and most fiscally responsible investments that New Jersey can make. New Jersey will pay a high price if its tobacco prevention program is cut. More kids will become addicted to tobacco, more lives will be lost and taxpayers will pay more to treat smoking-caused disease.
Cutting tobacco prevention is penny-wise and pound-foolish. Tobacco-related health care expenditures cost New Jersey and its taxpayers $2.6 billion a year. If adequately funded and sustained over time, tobacco prevention programs can substantially reduce these costs as demonstrated by California and Massachusetts, which have two of the nation's oldest tobacco prevention programs. Studies have shown that California, which started its program in 1989, is saving $8 for in smoking-caused health care costs for every dollar it spends on tobacco prevention, while Massachusetts, which started its program in 1993, is saving more than $2 for every dollar spent on tobacco prevention. If New Jersey cuts funding for tobacco prevention, savings for the state's budget and taxpayers will be reduced as well.
In addition to saving money, tobacco prevention protects kids and saves lives. California, Massachusetts and Arizona, which have three of the nation's oldest tobacco prevention programs, have reduced tobacco use far beyond national declines. In the three years since starting its program in 1998, Florida cut smoking rates by 47 percent among middle school students and 30 percent among high school students. This decline represents nearly 75,000 fewer youth smokers and more than 24,000 premature smoking deaths. Recent studies show that California's has saved tens of thousands of lives by reducing rates of heart disease and lung cancer. By maintaining its commitment to tobacco prevention, New Jersey can also reduce the toll of tobacco. Currently in New Jersey 27.6 percent of high school students smoke and 12,800 people die every year of tobacco-caused disease.
The state tobacco settlement provided New Jersey with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reduce tobacco's toll on our health, especially the epidemic of youth smoking. While New Jersey has taken steps toward realizing this opportunity, the $30 million it currently spends on tobacco prevention still falls short of the minimum $45 million a year that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the state spend on tobacco prevention. New Jersey should be doing more, not less. There are few other expenditures that New Jersey can make that will have a greater impact on the health of more people and the long-term financial well being of the state than the continuation of its tobacco prevention program.