Dec. 14 2001
Washington, DC — Governor Bob Holden’s proposal to cut Missouri’s tobacco prevention program’s funding by more than 15 percent is penny-wise and pound-foolish, and we urge him to maintain current funding for the program. Even in these difficult budget times, tobacco prevention is one of the smartest and most fiscally responsible investments that Missouri can make. Missouri will pay a high price if its tobacco prevention program is cut or delayed. More kids will become addicted to tobacco, more lives will be lost and taxpayers will pay more to treat smoking-caused disease.
Tobacco-related health care expenditures cost Missouri and its taxpayers $1.5 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 now saving $3 in smoking-caused health care costs for every dollar it spends on tobacco prevention, while Massachusetts, which started its program in 1993, is already saving more than $2 for every dollar spent on tobacco prevention. If Missouri 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 program has saved tens of thousands of lives by reducing smoking-caused birth complications, heart disease, strokes and lung cancer. By maintaining its commitment to tobacco prevention, Missouri can also reduce the toll of tobacco. Currently in Missouri 32.8 percent of high school students smoke and 9,900 people die every year of tobacco-caused disease. Missouri has the nation’s third highest smoking rate.
The state tobacco settlement provided Missouri with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reduce tobacco’s toll on our health, especially the epidemic of youth smoking. While Missouri has taken steps toward realizing this opportunity, the $22.5 million it currently spends on tobacco prevention still falls short of the minimum $32.77 million a year that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the state spend on tobacco prevention. Missouri should be doing more, not less. There are few other expenditures that Missouri 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.