Jan. 13 2004
Washington, DC — Forty years after the Surgeon General of the United States first reported on the health hazards of smoking, our challenges are still enormous. We’ve made progress, but too many of our children – about 25 percent of high school students in New Hampshire – are still being lured into tobacco addiction and too many of our loved loves are still being killed by tobacco use. In fact, tobacco use remains our country’s leading preventable cause of death, killing more than 400,000 people nationally and about 1,600 people in New Hampshire each year. Statistics can be numbing, but we cannot forget that they represent mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, colleagues and friends. Their deaths have devastated so many families and communities. We also pay with our pocketbooks because tobacco use costs us $75 billion a year in health care bills, including $440 million in New Hampshire. Taxpayers pay much of this cost through government health care programs like Medicaid.
The good news is that we have proven solutions that we know work to reduce tobacco use among both children and adults, solutions that also save lives and save money. Science and experience tells us states can make dramatic progress in reducing tobacco use by properly funding comprehensive tobacco prevention and cessation programs, by increasing tobacco taxes, and by enacting smoke-free policies in workplaces and public places in order to protect everyone from secondhand smoke. These solutions have worked everywhere they have been tried, and they should be adopted in New Hampshire.
Given the many benefits of tobacco prevention, it is hard to understand why New Hampshire’s leaders last year chose to provide zero state funding for tobacco prevention. As a result, New Hampshire is currently tied for last in the nation in funding programs to protect children from tobacco, according to a report that we issued with our public health partners in November. This is the ultimate example of being penny-wise and pound-foolish because in the long run New Hampshire will pay a high price with more kids smoking, more lives lost to tobacco and higher health care costs. A tight budget is not an excuse for the failure to do more because New Hampshire is collecting about $136 million a year in tobacco revenue from the 1998 state tobacco settlement and from tobacco taxes. It would take less than eight percent of this revenue for New Hampshire to fund a tobacco prevention program at the minimum level recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That leaves plenty for other needs. Surely New Hampshire can afford to spend just a fraction of its tobacco revenue to protect children from tobacco. If more revenue is needed, a tobacco tax increase can provide it.
New Hampshire does not have to look far for evidence that tobacco prevention programs work. Maine is number one in the nation in funding tobacco prevention and it is achieving dramatic results. Since launching its program in 1997, Maine has reduced smoking by 59 percent among middle school students and by 48 percent among high school students. The most recent high school smoking rate in Maine is 19 percent lower than in New Hampshire. Maine is succeeding because it has invested in a comprehensive tobacco prevention and cessation program based on the recommendations of the CDC. Such programs include advertising and other public education efforts to counter pro-smoking messages, community and school-based programs, help for smokers who want to quit, and strict enforcement of laws that establish smoke-free areas and restrict youth access to tobacco products.
Maine is not alone. Mississippi is one of the nation’s poorest states, but it has invested in a tobacco prevention program that reduced smoking by 48 percent among public middle school students and 29 percent among public high school students since 1999. We also have evidence that over time, prevention programs not only reduce smoking, they also save lives and money. Studies show California’s program, started in 1990, has helped save tens of thousands of lives by reducing smoking-caused heart disease, lung cancer and other diseases. Other studies find effective prevention programs save up to three dollars in smoking-caused health costs for every dollar spent on tobacco prevention. That amounts to a great investment for taxpayers.
There is one more important number New Hampshire’s leaders should consider this year in making decisions about funding tobacco prevention. The tobacco industry spends about $50 million a year to market its deadly products in New Hampshire, often in ways effective at reaching children. New Hampshire is spending zero state dollars to protect its children from this onslaught of tobacco marketing. Surely New Hampshire’s children deserve better and surely New Hampshire’s leaders can do better.