Jan. 12 2004
Washington, DC — A new report released today by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene shows the state’s tobacco prevention efforts have dramatically reduced smoking among both youth and adults and deserve strong support from Gov. Robert Ehrlich and the Legislature. From 2000 to 2002, Maryland reduced smoking by 30.6 percent among middle school students, by 23.5 percent among high school students and by 12 percent among adults.
During the survey period, Maryland used its tobacco settlement funds to implement one of the nation’s most aggressive and best-funded tobacco prevention and cessation programs and increased its cigarette tax from 66 cents to $1.00 per pack. As science and experience in other states predict, these initiatives are delivering tremendous health benefits for Maryland. But these gains will not continue and likely will be reversed unless Maryland’s leaders act quickly to restore funding for the state’s tobacco prevention program, which had its budget slashed by more than 50 percent last year, from $30 million for FY2003 to $14.8 million for FY2004. Despite budget difficulties, Maryland this year will receive more than $408 million in tobacco revenue from the state tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes. Just 7.5 percent of its total tobacco revenue can fully fund Maryland’s tobacco prevention program. This new report makes clear that tobacco prevention works. Now it’s up to Maryland’s leaders to stand up for the state’s kids and restore funding for tobacco prevention.
Tobacco prevention is one of the smartest and most fiscally responsible investments Maryland can make, even in difficult budget times. If Maryland invests in tobacco prevention now, it will not only reduce smoking and save lives, but also save far more than it spends on prevention by reducing smoking-caused health care costs. 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 also show the best state tobacco prevention programs have saved up to three dollars in health care costs for every dollar spent. Tobacco use costs Maryland and its taxpayers $1.5 billion a year in health care costs. Maryland taxpayers pay much of this under government health care programs like Medicaid. If Maryland fails to restore funding for tobacco prevention, its citizens will pay a high price in health, lives and money. Maryland’s leaders have difficult budget choices to make, but it is penny-wise and pound-foolish to cut tobacco prevention.
Maryland’s successes have occurred because the state has invested in a comprehensive tobacco prevention program as recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Surgeon General of the United States. Comprehensive tobacco prevention programs include public education, advertising to counter tobacco industry marketing, community and school-based programs, helping smokers quit, and strictly enforcing laws that establish smoke-free areas and restrict youth access to tobacco products. These measures are even more effective when coupled with tobacco tax increases and smoke-free workplace policies such as those under consideration by the Maryland Legislature.
Maryland’s results add to the powerful evidence from across the country that comprehensive tobacco prevention programs work. Other states with well-funded tobacco prevention programs have reduced youth smoking by as much as 50 percent in just a few short years. Unfortunately, we also have strong evidence from the CDC and several states, including Florida and California, that funding cuts can quickly reduce the effectiveness of tobacco prevention programs.
Maryland’s commitment is paying dividends but this is not the time to back off; 80,000 Maryland youths and 780,000 adults still use tobacco. Restoring funding for tobacco prevention will ensure continued progress in reducing smoking and associated health care costs.