May. 25 2005
Washington, DC — The citizens of North Carolina should be outraged that, just weeks after learning that North Carolina’s tobacco prevention ad campaign, Tobacco Reality Unfiltered (TRU), is working to protect kids from tobacco, the Health and Wellness Trust Fund Commission and Governor Mike Easley suddenly reversed course and reduced planned funding for the campaign. These cuts are a win for the old time tobacco company special interests at the expense of North Carolina's children. Tobacco prevention, including programs like the TRU campaign, is a smart and fiscally responsible investment that reduces smoking, saves lives and saves money by reducing smoking-caused health care costs. The decision to cut funding for this program is shortsighted and will cost the state thousands of lives and millions of dollars in healthcare costs for years to come. We urge Governor Easley and the Health and Wellness Trust Fund Commission to consider the health of North Carolina’s kids and restore funding for this critical program that is working to protect them from tobacco.
North Carolina was on the right track when it increased funding for its tobacco prevention program to $15 million in the current budget year, and the resulting health benefits are clear. Earlier this month, a study released by researchers at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill found that the tobacco prevention messages in the TRU campaign had effectively reached 45 percent of North Carolina youth (11-17 year olds). Nearly all of the kids surveyed who recalled the ads found them convincing and attention grabbing and felt they offered good reasons not to smoke. In addition, the study found that attitudes among North Carolina kids about tobacco use have changed in ways that should help prevent smoking in the future.
However, the state is still spending barely a third of the minimum amount of $42.6 million a year for tobacco prevention recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It is imperative that North Carolina builds on its tobacco prevention efforts because the tobacco companies are spending a record $488 million to market cigarettes and other tobacco products in the state, amounting to 33 times what the state currently spends on tobacco prevention.
North Carolina can raise enough revenue to fund tobacco prevention and other important programs by increasing the state’s lowest-in-the-nation cigarette tax by 75 cents. Adding just two cents to the proposed tax increase would bring in enough new revenue to fully restore funding for the TRU campaign. Increasing the cigarette tax is a win-win-win solution for North Carolina that will reduce smoking, save lives and raise much-needed revenue.
A 75-cent cigarette tax increase would prevent some 101,600 kids alive today from becoming smokers; spur 56,600 current adult smokers to quit; save 47,400 North Carolina residents from premature, smoking-caused deaths; produce $2.1 billion in long-term health care savings; and raise $349 million in new revenue each year. Just a small portion of this new revenue would be sufficient to fund a tobacco prevention program at CDC-recommended levels.
Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in North Carolina, claiming more than 11,500 lives each year and costing the state $2.3 billion annually in health care bills, including $708 million in Medicaid payments alone. Government expenditures related to tobacco amount to a hidden tax of $556 each year on every North Carolina household. In addition, 24.8 percent of North Carolina high school students currently smoke, and 23,700 more kids become regular smokers every year. If North Carolina continues to step up its commitment to tobacco prevention, the experience of other states shows that it will dramatically reduce youth smoking, save lives and save money by reducing smoking-related health care costs. The best state tobacco prevention programs have reduced youth smoking rates by more than half while saving more than $3 in health care costs for every dollar spent.