May. 10 2002
Washington, DC — The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) has taken an important step forward by launching its "Raze: Tear Down the Lies" advertising campaign to counter the tobacco industry's marketing barrage to kids in the state. Similar counter-marketing campaigns, conducted as part of comprehensive tobacco prevention programs, have been highly effective at reducing smoking rates in Mississippi, California, Massachusetts, Florida, Maine, Oregon and other states. The newly launched campaign can help dramatically reduce the number of children who use tobacco if it is part of a sustained, well-funded, comprehensive effort. We applaud the West Virginia DHHR for taking this important first step, but if West Virginia's program is to succeed it must fund its program at a level close to the minimum recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Currently, West Virginia is funding tobacco prevention at $5.85 million a year, just 41 percent of the minimum level recommended by the CDC.
Even in these difficult budget times, tobacco prevention is one of the smartest and most fiscally responsible investments that West Virginia can make. Efforts to cut tobacco prevention are penny-wise and pound-foolish. We have conclusive evidence that tobacco prevention works. States that have implemented such programs have dramatically cut tobacco use among both children and adults, reduced the incidence of lung cancer and heart disease, and saved millions of dollars in health care costs. The evidence is clear:
Reducing smoking: Since starting its program in 1998, Florida has 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 fewer premature smoking deaths. Since 1997, Maine has cut smoking by 36 percent among high school students, while Oregon has cut smoking by 41 percent among eighth graders.
Saving Lives: Recent studies show that California, which started the nation's oldest tobacco prevention program in 1989, has saved tens of thousands of lives by reducing smoking-caused birth complications, heart disease, strokes and lung cancer.
Saving money for taxpayers: Studies have shown that the country's best tobacco prevention programs are saving up to $3 in smoking-caused health costs for every dollar spent on tobacco prevention.
Tobacco-related health care expenditures cost West Virginia and its taxpayers $539 million each year. More than 5,000 West Virginia kids become new regular smokers every year, one-third of whom will die prematurely as a result. If adequately funded and sustained over time, a comprehensive tobacco prevention program can substantially reduce this toll.
In addition to the counter-marketing campaign, West Virginia also needs to implement other elements of a comprehensive tobacco prevention program: community and school-based programs, strong enforcement of laws against sales to minors, and cessation services to help smokers quit. There's much that still needs to be done in West Virginia, but it is gratifying to see progress is being made.