Governor Gregoire Urged to Veto $13.9 Million Cut to Washington's Tobacco Prevention Program

Governor, Legislature Should Provide Guaranteed, Long-Term Funding

May. 3 2005

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

Washington, DC — The citizens of Washington should be outraged that, just weeks after learning that Washington’s tobacco prevention program has dramatically reduced youth smoking, state legislators passed a budget that raids $13.9 million in tobacco settlement money from the account created in 1999 to fund the program. We urge Governor Christine Gregoire to use her line-item veto authority to overturn this misguided proposal, which sets a harmful precedent for raiding tobacco prevention funds and threatens Washington’s ability to continue protecting kids from tobacco addiction.

We further call on legislative leaders to make a commitment not to raid tobacco prevention funds in the future and to publicly make it a priority of the next legislative session to provide guaranteed, long-term funding for tobacco prevention. While the Legislature’s decision will have no impact on the program’s funding this year, Washington’s annual spending on tobacco prevention will be cut in half in the near future unless additional funding is provided. The Legislature missed an opportunity to provide such sustained funding when it increased the state cigarette tax by 60-cents a pack as part of its new budget, but failed to earmark any of this new tobacco-generated revenue to prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit. We urge the Governor and Legislature to provide dedicated funding for Washington’s tobacco prevention program at the minimum level of $33.3 million a year recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One way to do this would be to further increase the cigarette tax and dedicate enough of the new revenue to properly fund tobacco prevention. It is imperative that Washington learn from the experience of other states that have seen their progress in reducing youth smoking halted after they cut funding for tobacco prevention.

Washington’s tobacco prevention program currently has two sources of funding: a $100 million allocation of tobacco settlement money approved by the Legislature in 1999 and a portion of the annual revenue generated by the 60-cent cigarette tax increase voters approved in 2001 (I-773). However, in its latest budget, the Legislature takes away $13.9 million of the settlement money from the Tobacco Prevention and Control Account and puts it into the general fund. As a result, the tobacco prevention program would run out of settlement money one year sooner than expected and would have to cut its annual budget by half beginning in Fiscal Year 2008 (current law requires the program to be funded at a level of at least $26.2 million a year).

If Washington is to continue reducing tobacco use and its devastating consequences, Governor Gregoire should veto this raid on tobacco prevention funding, the Legislature and its leaders should make a commitment not to raid the fund in the future, and the Governor and Legislature should work together to provide guaranteed, long-term funding for the program. As Washington has shown to the nation, tobacco prevention is a smart and fiscally responsible investment that reduces smoking, saves lives and saves money by reducing smoking-caused health care costs. In just a few years, Washington’s tobacco prevention efforts have cut smoking by 57 percent among sixth graders, 49 percent among eighth graders, 48 percent among tenth graders, and 44 percent among twelfth graders. Because of these declines, there are 65,000 fewer youth smokers in Washington, and the state has saved more than $1 billion in long-term health care costs.

Washington’s tobacco prevention program is the equivalent of a vaccine that inoculates kids against tobacco addiction and the disease and premature death that so often results. The state’s challenge now is to guard against complacency and provide this vaccine to every generation of kids. Despite Washington’s recent progress, tobacco use remains the state’s leading preventable cause of death, claiming 7,700 lives each year and costing the state $1.8 billion a year in health care bills. Some 16,000 Washington kids still become regular smokers each year, one-third of whom will die prematurely as a result. To put at risk the long-term health of the tobacco prevention program is to put at risk the long-term health of Washington’s children.

 

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