Governor Barbour’s Lawsuit to Eliminate the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi Is Partisan Politics at the Expense of Mississippi’s Kids and Medicaid

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

Feb. 10 2005

Washington, DC — Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour today filed a lawsuit to eliminate funding for the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi – the state’s nationally recognized, highly successful tobacco prevention program that has dramatically reduced the number of Mississippi kids who use tobacco. The Governor has used the soaring state Medicaid costs as an excuse to gut Mississippi’s tobacco prevention program and to wage a partisan battle against the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi. If he succeeds, Mississippi’s kids and taxpayers will lose, and Barbour’s former tobacco industry clients from his lobbying years in Washington, D.C., will be the big winners.

Governor Barbour has it backwards. Tobacco use is a main cause of Mississippi’s soaring Medicaid costs and the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi is doing more to bring down those costs than any other program in Mississippi by dramatically reducing tobacco use. The evidence is already in. For every dollar Mississippi has spent on the Partnership’s tobacco prevention program, Mississippi has saved as much as $3 in smoking-caused health care costs. Stripping the funding for this program is the worst thing that Governor Barbour can do for the health of Mississippi’s kids and for the current Medicaid crisis.

While Governor Barbour pursues his partisan political agenda, the health and lives of thousands of Mississippi kids are at stake. The Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi has already cut smoking by more than half among middle school students and by about 30 percent among high school students. If the Partnership continues its current level of effort, new research shows that the state will prevent nearly 33,000 kids alive today from starting to smoke, save 10,500 of them from premature, smoking-caused deaths, and save Mississippi $394 million in long-term, smoking related health care costs. If the Partnership is eliminated, smoking rates and smoking caused disease, death, and healthcare costs will soar.

That’s not all that the Governor will sacrifice if he cuts the Partnership’s funding. Rather than solving the state’s Medicaid budget problems, eliminating the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi will increase Medicaid spending on smoking-caused health care. Tobacco costs Mississippi $561 million a year in health care bills, including $206 million under Medicaid. Every Mississippi household currently pays $463 a year in taxes because of smoking-caused government expenditures. Effective tobacco prevention programs, like the Partnership, are proven to reduce this financial burden.

There is a far better solution to funding Medicaid that would further reduce youth smoking and save lives – increase the state’s low cigarette tax by $1 per pack and utilize some of the revenue to bolster the state’s Medicaid program. What’s more, a recent poll found that 63.5 percent of Mississippi voters support a $1 per pack cigarette tax increase.

The only people who can win from Governor Barbour's attack against the Partnership are his former tobacco clients, who paid Governor Barbour's Washington, D.C. lobbying firm millions of dollars. While Governor Barbour may have left D.C., he hasn’t given up his ties to Big Tobacco. In the lawsuit filed today, the Governor hired the same attorneys to represent him against the Partnership that represented Big Tobacco against the State of Mississippi during the 1997 tobacco litigation.

The Governor’s lawsuit and partisan political games are just another giveaway to his tobacco industry friends and an enormous sacrifice to the health of Mississippi’s kids. Sadly, Governor Barbour has put partisan politics and special interests above Mississippi’s kids’ health and its taxpayers’ well being.

 

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