Apr. 16 2003
Washington, D.C. — New Hampshire Governor Craig Benson should stand up for kids, not Big Tobacco, yet he is doing just the opposite by opposing a cigarette tax increase and proposing a budget that would eliminate funding for the state's tobacco prevention program. These actions come just months after tobacco giants Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds were sponsors of Governor Benson's inauguration. Governor Benson's actions create the appearance that the tobacco industry's campaign contributions count for more than the interests of New Hampshire's children. If Governor Benson gets his way, thousands more of New Hampshire's kids will become addicted to tobacco and die prematurely and New Hampshire taxpayers will pay millions more to treat tobacco-caused disease. We urge him to reconsider his positions, and we urge the Legislature to support both a cigarette tax increase and full funding for tobacco prevention.
The Governor's actions are inconsistent with his own web site, which counsels visitors to kick their tobacco habit. The governor's site currently discusses the harms caused by tobacco use in New Hampshire and links visitors to services that would be eliminated under his plan, such as the toll-free smoker's Quitline and an 18-school pilot program called "NOT" (Not ON Tobacco) that has already helped over 175 New Hampshire kids quit. Reducing tobacco disease requires real commitment, not just lip service.
Tobacco prevention and cigarettes taxes are proven to reduce smoking. A recent study issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that in New Hampshire smoking rates declined by 47.5 percent among middle school students from 2000 to 2001 and by 30.6 percent among high school students from 1995 to 2001. The CDC attributed these declines to cigarette price increases and comprehensive tobacco prevention programs. Despite this evidence, Governor Benson has gone out of his way to derail a tobacco tax increase proposal that has the support of the general public and the state's health community. Though Governor Benson originally supported level funding for tobacco prevention programs, he now proposes to eliminate those programs altogether.
The $1 tobacco tax increase proposal would generate much needed revenue for the Granite State while also reducing tobacco use among the state's youth. Only tobacco companies would win if the tobacco tax failed to pass. The question is, will the New Hampshire Legislature give in to the Governor's arm-twisting to kill the cigarette tax or will they choose to protect the children of New Hampshire?
While New Hampshire has tough choices to make to balance its budget, Governor Benson's proposal goes well beyond any fair-shared sacrifice and singles out the tobacco prevention program for disproportionate cuts. This is a penny-wise, pound-foolish decision that ignores the evidence that tobacco prevention programs can help solve state budget woes by reducing smoking-caused health care costs. Members of the New Hampshire House should reject efforts to protect Big Tobacco by voting for the "B" budget on Thursday, April 17.