May. 19 2005
Washington, DC — Governor Christine Gregoire has acted to protect kids' health and taxpayers' pocketbooks by vetoing a provision of the Washington state budget that diverted $13.9 million from the state's tobacco prevention account. We applaud this action and Governor Gregoire's longstanding leadership in protecting kids from tobacco addiction. She has ensured that Washington's tobacco prevention program remains one of the nation's best for years to come. Washington's tobacco prevention efforts have already reduced youth smoking rates by more than half among some age groups, thereby preventing thousands of premature deaths and saving more than a billion dollars in future, tobacco-caused health care costs.
The next challenge for Washington's leaders is to provide dedicated, long-term funding for the tobacco prevention program, which will have its funding cut in half starting in Fiscal Year 2009 if no action is taken. The program currently is funded at a level of at least $26.2 million a year with a combination of revenue from the 1998 state tobacco settlement and the cigarette tax approved by voters in 2001. However, the tobacco settlement funds allocated to the program will run out after Fiscal Year 2008, reducing its funding and effectiveness. So it is imperative that Governor Gregoire and the Legislature make it a priority of the next legislative session to provide additional, dedicated funding for tobacco prevention. It was out of character for the Legislature to raid the program's funding in this year's budget given lawmakers' long history of support for tobacco prevention. We urge Washington's lawmakers to renew their longstanding commitment next year by working with Governor Gregoire to provide long-term funding for the program. One way to do this would be to further increase the cigarette tax and dedicate enough of the new revenue to fund tobacco prevention at the minimum level of $33.3 million a year recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Because of its commitment to tobacco prevention, Washington has cut smoking by 57 percent among sixth graders, 49 percent among eighth graders, 48 percent among tenth graders, and 44 percent among twelfth graders. The state's challenge now is to avoid complacency and learn from the experience of other states that have seen their progress in reducing youth smoking halted after they cut funding for tobacco prevention. 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. Washington's leaders should ensure that the state's tobacco prevention program is properly funded and sustained to protect every generation of children.