May. 1 2002
Washington, DC — Four years after joining the state tobacco settlement, North Carolina has taken its first modest step toward reducing tobacco's toll in the state by funding a youth tobacco prevention program. A proposal approved today by the Health and Wellness Trust Commission allocates $6.2 million for this purpose each year for three years based on the availability of funds. We welcome this news, but North Carolina's leaders must do a lot more if they hope to reduce the tremendous toll that tobacco use takes in health, lives and money.
North Carolina will receive more than $162 million in settlement payments this year, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends the state spend at least $43 million of these funds on a comprehensive tobacco prevention program. The Commission's proposal provides less than 15 percent of CDC's recommended funding. At this funding level, it will be all the more critical to implement proven measures following the model established by the CDC. Unless these funds are used wisely, and then increased and sustained, there will be no impact on youth smoking.
We have conclusive evidence from states that have implemented comprehensive tobacco prevention programs that these programs not only reduce smoking and save lives, but also save taxpayers millions of dollars by reducing smoking-caused health care costs, which total $1.9 billion a year in North Carolina. States are saving as much as $3 in smoking-caused health care costs for every dollar spent on tobacco prevention.
Tobacco's toll is devastating in North Carolina. 24,200 kids become regular, daily smokers every year, one-third of whom will die prematurely. Cigarettes will kill more than 11,000 North Carolinians this year. Just last week, the CDC reported that tobacco use annually costs North Carolina $4.75 billion in health care expenses and lost productivity. A comprehensive, statewide tobacco prevention program can help reduce these numbers. Florida, for example, reduced smoking rates by 47 percent among middle school students and 30 percent among high school students in three years, while Mississippi has cut public high school smoking 25 percent since 1999.
North Carolina has taken a positive, if overdue, first step. To keep more kids from becoming addicted to tobacco, save more lives and reduce taxpayer health costs, more will have to be done.