Oct. 11 2005
Washington, DC — Today’s announcement that adult smoking rates have declined significantly in Washington is further evidence that the state’s Tobacco Prevention and Control Program is working to reduce smoking, save lives and save money by reducing smoking-related health care costs. Washington is a national leader in fighting tobacco use, and its citizens will enjoy better health for generations to come because of the strong commitment state leaders have made to preventing kids from smoking and helping smokers quit. This incredible progress would not have happened without the vision and commitment of Governor Gregoire, state legislators and the dedicated public health professionals who administer the Tobacco Prevention and Control Program. We applaud them for their leadership.
Washington’s challenge now is to continue its progress and ensure that every generation is protected from tobacco’s devastating consequences. State leaders should provide dedicated, long-term funding for the Tobacco Prevention and Control 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 and cessation, with the goal of increasing annual funding to the minimum level of $33.3 million a year recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Governor Gregoire announced today that Washington’s adult smoking rate has declined from 22.4 percent in 1999 to 19.5 percent in 2004, moving Washington from having the 20th lowest adult smoking rate to the ninth lowest among the states. Washington’s adult smoking rate is now well below the national rate of 20.9 percent. According to the Washington Department of Health, this decline translates to about 130,000 fewer smokers in the state. As announced in March, Washington has also significantly reduced youth smoking rates, with rates declining by 57 percent among sixth graders, 49 percent among eighth graders and 44 percent among twelfth graders since the late 1990s.
In addition to saving lives and improving health, Washington’s investment in tobacco prevention and cessation is also saving money for taxpayers by reducing health care costs. The state Department of Health estimates that the adult smoking declines will save the state $1.6 billion in long-term health care costs, while the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids has estimated that the youth smoking declines will save more than $1 billion in long-term health care costs. Thus, by spending $26.2 million a year on tobacco prevention, Washington is saving nearly 100 times that amount in future health care costs. It is a return on investment that few, if any, other government programs can match.
Washington voters this November can further reduce smoking and protect everyone from the proven dangers of secondhand smoke by approving a ballot initiative, Initiative 901, to require that all workplaces, including restaurants and bars, be smoke-free. Secondhand smoke is scientifically proven to cause lung cancer, heart disease and serious respiratory illnesses and is responsible nationally for thousands of deaths each year. I-901 will protect everyone’s right to breathe clean air.
Today’s results show how much Washington’s Tobacco Prevention and Control Program can achieve, but these results should not be taken for granted. States that have cut funding for once successful tobacco prevention programs, including Florida, Massachusetts and Minnesota, have seen their progress stop and even reverse. Washington must not fall into that trap. Rather than standing pat or reversing course, Washington’s leaders should redouble their commitment to tobacco prevention and work to accelerate the historic gains that have been made.