May. 2 2002
Washington, DC — Missouri is in danger of falling to dead last in the nation in protecting its kids and taxpayers from the terrible toll of tobacco unless a legislative conference committee provides funding for the state's tobacco prevention program. While Missouri has tough choices to make in order to balance the budget, cutting tobacco prevention is the wrong choice. It's a penny-wise, pound-foolish approach that ignores the conclusive evidence from states around the country that tobacco prevention programs are reducing smoking among both kids and adults, saving lives by reducing the incidence of lung cancer and heart disease, and saving money by reducing smoking-caused health care costs. In fact, the best programs are saving up to $3 in health costs for every dollar spent on the programs. Missouri will miss a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to achieve these benefits and savings if it fails to use its tobacco settlement money to fund a comprehensive tobacco prevention program. Gov. Bob Holden's recent decision to eliminate all FY 2002 funding for tobacco prevention lets down the state's kids and taxpayers. The conference committee should act to fund this long-overdue program at the level passed by the Senate – $21 million.
In January of this year, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, along with the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association and the American Lung Association, issued a report ranking all the states based on their commitment to tobacco prevention programs. Based on the FY02 Appropriations, Missouri was ranked 15th. With funding for the program eliminated, Missouri will fall to the bottom of the list – behind even tobacco-growing neighbor-state Kentucky.
Tobacco prevention programs have been proven to work. 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. California's pioneering program has prevented tens of thousands of deaths from heart disease and lung cancer. And prevention programs are saving states hundreds of millions of dollars in health care costs.
Smoking costs Missouri $1.6 billion in direct medical care costs and an additional $2.1 billion in lost productivity each year, according to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Missouri's Medicaid program spends $467 million annually treating smoking-caused diseases. Rising Medicaid costs are a major contributor to Missouri's current budget crisis, and tobacco prevention programs can substantially reduce these costs over time. Cutting tobacco prevention now is a shortsighted approach that will cost Missouri taxpayers more in the long run.
Unfortunately, Missouri so far has spent none of the $140 million it has received in tobacco settlement funds on tobacco prevention. It's time for Missouri's leaders to keep the promise of the tobacco settlement and use tobacco money to solve the tobacco problem. The conference committee should provide tobacco prevention funding at the level passed by the Senate, $21 million in FY 2003. This is just short of the amount that was appropriated but completely eliminated in the current budget year.
In Missouri, 17,100 kids become regular, daily smokers every year, one-third of whom will die prematurely as a result. Missouri will pay a high price if its leaders fail to adequately fund tobacco prevention. More kids will become addicted to tobacco, more lives will be lost and taxpayers will pay more to treat smoking-caused disease. Missouri's leaders must choose: will they protect Missouri kids and taxpayers or Big Tobacco?