Jun. 20 2005
Washington, DC — Yesterday's decision by a legislative conference committee to raid $216 million in funding for Ohio's highly successful tobacco prevention program is shortsighted and will benefit tobacco special interests at the expense of Ohio's kids and taxpayers. If this decision is allowed to stand, more Ohio kids will become addicted to tobacco, more Ohio residents will die of tobacco-caused disease and Ohio taxpayers will pay millions more in health care costs. We urge legislative leaders to reverse this decision and restore funding for the tobacco prevention program before bringing the state budget to a vote in the full House and Senate. If they fail to do so, we urge Governor Robert Taft to use his line-item veto to restore funding for tobacco prevention. Failure to reverse this disastrous legislative action would be an abdication of leadership on the Governor's part and a repudiation of his own efforts in supporting the establishment of the Tobacco Use Prevention and Control Foundation in 2000.
This decision breaks the promise Ohio leaders made at the time of the 1998 state tobacco settlement to invest a significant portion of the state's settlement money in programs to reduce tobacco use, especially among kids. This decision is also inexplicable and inexcusable in light of two facts: First, Ohio's tobacco prevention program has dramatically reduced smoking among both kids and adults; and second, Ohio is experiencing a budget surplus and will be collecting more tobacco-generated revenue than ever because of the 70-cent cigarette tax increase included in the conference committee's budget compromise. It makes no sense for Ohio's leaders to cut back on efforts to prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit at the same time that the state is collecting more revenue from tobacco sources than ever before. It is especially shameful to cut programs to help smokers quit right when a new cigarette tax increase will be prompting more smokers to seek that assistance.
Through the work of the Ohio Tobacco Use Prevention and Control Foundation, Ohio has been a national leader in tobacco prevention. The state cut smoking by 45 percent between 1999 and 2003, while adult smoking rates declined by 17 percent in just one year, from 2003 to 2004. However, as other states have demonstrated, this progress can quickly stop and even reverse when states cut funding for tobacco prevention. If the latest cut is allowed to stand, Ohio will have to cut annual funding for tobacco prevention from $53.3 million this year to about $25 million, and the Foundation would run out of money entirely in just a few short years. Instead of cutting funding for tobacco prevention, Ohio should increase funding to the minimum annual amount of $61.7 million recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A lack of money is not a credible excuse for the conference's committee's actions. The 70-cent per pack cigarette tax increase will bring the state $476 million in additional revenue each year. In the coming budget year, Ohio will collect a record $793 million from the tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes, yet it will allocate none of this new tobacco revenue to programs that prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit (annual funding for tobacco prevention will come from funding previously allocated to the Foundation). While the cigarette tax increase is itself a positive step that will help reduce smoking, it is not a substitute for long-term, well-funded tobacco prevention and cessation programs.
Despite Ohio's recent progress, tobacco use remains the state's leading preventable cause of death, claiming 18,600 lives each year. Some 35,400 Ohio kids still become regular smokers each year, one-third of whom will die prematurely as a result. Tobacco costs Ohio $4 billion a year in health care bills, including $1.3 billion under Medicaid. The average Ohio household pays $602 a year in taxes because of smoking-caused government expenditures. Funding tobacco prevention is one of the most important steps Ohio can take to protect kids, save lives and save money.