Jul. 25 2002
Washington, DC — The Massachusetts Legislature has taken a positive step in protecting the state's kids and taxpayers from the devastating toll of tobacco by overriding Gov. Jane Swift's veto and increasing the state cigarette tax by 75 cents a pack. However, Gov. Swift and the Legislature also took two big steps backward by slashing funding for the state's highly successful tobacco prevention program by 35 percent. Cutting the state's tobacco prevention program is a highly irresponsible move for which Massachusetts will pay a high price in lives lost and taxpayer dollars spent on smoking-caused diseases.
Cutting tobacco prevention is penny-wise and pound-foolish. It ignores the evidence from Massachusetts own program that tobacco prevention is a smart, fiscally responsible investment that not only reduces smoking and saves lives, but also saves far more money than it costs by reducing smoking-caused health care costs. In fact, Massachusetts and California, with the nation's two oldest tobacco prevention programs, are saving up to $3 for every dollar spent on prevention. This evidence shows that tobacco prevention is part of the solution to Massachusetts' budget woes.
On the positive side, Massachusetts can expect a 75-cent per pack cigarette tax increase to prevent some 43,000 kids alive today from becoming smokers, save 21,000 Massachusetts residents from smoking-caused deaths, produce $800 million in long-term health care savings, and raise $222 million a year in new revenue. The budget also increases the wholesale tax on smokeless tobaccos and cigars by 15 percent.
However, if Massachusetts is to continue to achieve a sustained, long-term reduction in smoking, the state's leaders will have to restore funding for what was once the nation's leading tobacco prevention program. The new budget reduces funding for the program by 35 percent, from $48 million in the initial Fiscal Year 2002 budget to $31 million in the FY2003 budget. At this level, Massachusetts will be spending 88.5 percent of the minimum amount – $35 million – that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the state spend for tobacco prevention. This cut will drop Massachusetts from first to seventh in the nation in funding tobacco prevention, according to a report released earlier this week by the American Lung Association, American Cancer Society, American Heart Association and Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. The report called Massachusetts "one of the most disappointing states."
Like other states that have cut funding for successful tobacco prevention programs, Massachusetts will likely learn the hard way that cutting tobacco prevention does not make sense from a public health or a fiscal viewpoint. In Florida, the latest data on youth smoking rates suggest that, because of budget cuts, the state's once-model program may not be reaching kids as effectively as it did initially. California's progress in reducing smoking rates stopped for a period in the mid-1990s after funding for tobacco prevention was cut. Funding was later partially restored, as was progress in reducing tobacco use. These experiences warn Massachusetts and other states that tobacco prevention programs must be adequately funded and sustained over time in order to protect every generation of children and continue reducing smoking rates.
In Massachusetts, 26 percent of high school students still smoke, and 14,400 more kids become regular, daily smokers every year, one-third of whom will die prematurely. Smoking-caused health care costs Massachusetts and its taxpayers $2.7 billion a year. Unless its leaders restore funding for tobacco prevention, Massachusetts will pay a high price. More kids will become addicted to tobacco, more lives will be lost and taxpayers will pay more to treat tobacco-caused disease.