State House Rally Urges Next Massachusetts Governor to Restore Funding for Tobacco Prevention

Attorney General, Health Groups, Tobacco Victims Speak Out at Rally Poll, Petition Show Strong Support for Tobacco Prevention Funding

Oct. 20 2002

Boston, MA — Massachusetts' next Governor must restore funding for the state's highly successful tobacco prevention program, Attorney General Tom Reilly, Representative Rachel Kaprielian (D-Watertown), public health groups and tobacco victims demanded at a rally at the Massachusetts State House today. Public health groups released a poll showing that three-quarters of Massachusetts voters support fully funding tobacco prevention. They also released a petition signed by more than 40 public health and other organizations urging candidates for Governor and the Legislature to formally pledge to restore funding for tobacco control.

"Massachusetts receives hundreds of millions of dollars every year as a direct result of the lawsuit brought by the Attorney General's Office against the tobacco companies," Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly told the group. "The aim of the lawsuit was to protect the public health, particularly the health of our children. It is only right that the settlement payments be used to ensure adequate funding for these effective tobacco control programs."

Donald Gudaitis, chief executive officer of the New England Division of the American Cancer Society added, "Ten years ago, the voters of Massachusetts drew a line in the sand against the tobacco industry and the preventable deaths of more than 9,000 of our fellow citizens every year. The passage of that first tobacco excise tax and the landmark tobacco control program that it created was one of the best investments our state has ever made – a proven way to save lives and dollars. The devastating cuts to this highly successful program will return Massachusetts to the dark ages of control by Big Tobacco."

Massachusetts receives more than $800 million every year from tobacco taxes and tobacco settlement payments, but it would take less than five percent of this tobacco money to restore funding for tobacco prevention to $35 million, which is the minimum recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Governor Swift has slashed funding for the Massachusetts Tobacco Control Program by 88 percent; as a result, Massachusetts now spends less than one percent of its $800 million in tobacco money on tobacco prevention.

As a result of Governor Swift's cuts, all 49 of the state's youth prevention programs have been eliminated along with all 29 smoking intervention programs. Nearly 27,000 Massachusetts smokers will no longer have access to community-based smoking cessation programs. In addition, because of the elimination of funding to 41 local boards of health and a cut in funding for the remaining 34 boards, compliance checks to prevent the sale of tobacco products to minors will be reduced by 80 percent and enforcement of clean indoor air regulations will be reduced significantly in all municipalities.

"At a time when the tobacco industry is increasing its marketing and advertising to more than $215 million a year in Massachusetts alone, it is imperative that our next Governor commit to fully funding a comprehensive prevention program that fights youth tobacco use and saves lives," said Lori Fresina, campaign organizer for Protect Mass Kids, a project of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids Action Fund (www.ProtectMassKids.org). "We had one of the most successful and effective programs in the nation until it was reduced to ashes by Governor Swift. Our next Governor must choose the health and lives of our kids over the profits of the tobacco industry."

Poll Shows Strong Support for Tobacco Prevention Funding

In a recent statewide survey of Massachusetts voters, two-thirds (68%) disapproved of Governor Swift's cuts to tobacco prevention. The survey also found that an overwhelming majority of Massachusetts voters (76%) supported restoring tobacco prevention funding to at least $35 million per year, with over half (52%) strongly supporting restoring the funding. Just 20 percent of voters opposed funding tobacco prevention at the level recommended by the CDC. Support for tobacco control crossed party lines, with Republicans just as likely as Democrats to support full funding for tobacco control.

Even after voters were reminded of the state's severe budget deficit, nearly three-quarters (72%) continued to support restoration of funding, with only 26 percent opposed. "Even in these difficult economic times, voters support using tobacco tax and tobacco settlement revenues to address the health problems that result from smoking in Massachusetts," Fresina said. "The candidates for Governor should listen to the people of Massachusetts and pledge to dedicate tobacco money to tobacco prevention."

The survey also showed that Massachusetts voters will express their support for tobacco prevention at the voting booth. By a margin of nearly three-to-one (69% to 22%), Massachusetts voters would support a candidate for Governor who favors restoring full funding to the tobacco prevention program over one who opposes it. Again, this strong preference crossed party lines as a majority of Republicans and Democrats preferred the candidate who favored restoration of tobacco prevention funds.

The survey of 500 registered voters was conducted between September 19-22 by Market Strategies, Inc. The survey has a margin of error of +/- 4.4 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.

Petition Backs Tobacco Prevention Funding

Another highlight of today's rally was the release of a petition in support of fully funding tobacco prevention that was signed by more than 40 wide-ranging organizations, including the American Cancer Society, Campus Firewatch, Massachusetts Medical Society, Massachusetts Nurses Association, MASSPIRG and Children's Hospital. The petition will be submitted to the Legislature and both candidates for Governor urging that just 5 percent of the money generated by tobacco in Massachusetts be invested in tobacco prevention.

Massachusetts voters created the state's tobacco prevention program in 1993, following passage of a tobacco tax ballot initiative in 1992. It has helped cut the Commonwealth's youth smoking rates by 50 percent more than the national reduction, and it has saved $2 in health care costs for every $1 spent on prevention before it was cut, according to studies evaluating the program. Currently, tobacco use kills more than 9,000 Massachusetts citizens each year, and the Commonwealth spends more than $2.7 billion to treat tobacco-caused diseases. Every year, more than 30,000 Massachusetts kids try their first cigarette. Another 13,700 Massachusetts kids become addicted smokers, with one in three of them dying prematurely as a result.

In addition to Reilly, Gudaitis and Kaprielian, other speakers at today's rally included Rick Stoddard, who appeared in television ads speaking of his wife Marie's premature and painful death from tobacco use; Janice Buthen, a tobacco cessation program participant from Gardner; and Cynthia Loesch, Teens Against Tobacco (Dorchester). Emceeing the event was Gena Carter Brockington, MD, a member of the board of directors of the New England Division of the American Cancer Society.

 

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