May. 7 2003
Washington, D.C. — We applaud Maine Governor John Baldacci for his farsighted leadership in proposing to permanently protect the Fund for a Healthy Maine by a constitutional amendment. This visionary plan will save lives and reduce health care costs by permanently making tobacco prevention and health promotion a priority in the state. It will end the shell game of using tobacco settlement funds to supplant spending from the general budget on health programs. The Governor's plan will help ensure that Maine remains a national leader in using tobacco settlement money as intended to protect kids from tobacco addiction. We urge the Legislature to approve the Governor's plan and send the amendment to the voters for approval this November.
No other state has done what Maine is proposing: ensuring that every penny of tobacco settlement money is used for disease prevention, health promotion, and access to health care. By contrast, most states have squandered their tobacco settlements rather than keeping their promise to use the funds for tobacco prevention. A report by public health groups released in January ranked Maine first among the states in funding programs to protect kids from tobacco. Maine was one of only a handful of states funding tobacco prevention at the minimum level recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Maine's decision to properly fund tobacco prevention represents both good fiscal policy and good public health policy in light of conclusive evidence that these programs work to reduce smoking among both kids and adults, save lives and save money.
Maine's tobacco prevention program has been highly successful. The state reduced smoking among high school students by 36 percent from 1997 to 2001. Maine's program is also encouraging young smokers to quit – between 1997 and 2001, the percentage of youth users who have tried to quit increased from 33 percent to 57 percent. The evidence is clear that if Maine stays the course it will save lives and money as well. Studies show California, which started the nation's oldest tobacco prevention program in 1990, has saved tens of thousands of lives by reducing smoking-caused birth complications, heart disease, strokes and lung cancer. Studies have also shown states can save as much as $3 in health care costs for every dollar spent on prevention.
In Maine, 24.8 percent of high school students currently smoke, and 3,800 more kids become regular, daily smokers every year, one-third of whom will die prematurely. Smoking-caused health care costs Maine and its taxpayers $470 million a year.