Feb. 16 2006
Washington, DC — The proposal announced today by Governor Haley Barbour would dismantle one of the nation’s most successful tobacco prevention programs and sacrifice the health of Mississippi’s kids while benefiting his former big tobacco employers. Barbour’s proposal would destroy a program that has made Mississippi a national leader in protecting kids from tobacco and divert a significant portion of the money the states now spends on tobacco prevention to other programs. This is the second time in a month that Barbour has put the interests of Big Tobacco ahead of Mississippi’s kids and families, following his veto of legislation that would increase Mississippi’s incredibly low cigarette tax and eliminate its regressive grocery tax. Twice now, Barbour has sacrificed the health and financial interests of his current employers - the people of Mississippi - to protect the financial interests of the tobacco companies for which he used to lobby. Mississippi will pay a terrible price unless these decisions are reversed. More Mississippi children will become addicted to tobacco, more lives will be lost and the state’s taxpayers will pay more because of higher tobacco-related health care costs.
Mississippi is experiencing significant health and economic benefits because it is one of the few states that has consistently followed the recommendations of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in funding and implementing its tobacco prevention program. Barbour’s proposal would throw that science-based approach out the window and replace a program recommended by the nation’s public health experts with one recommended by a former tobacco lobbyist. This proposal would bring Mississippi’s progress to a screeching halt and leave the state’s kids unprotected from the predatory marketing of the tobacco companies. It’s critical that Mississippi continue its dedication to tobacco prevention because the tobacco companies are spending a record $200.4 million a year marketing their products in the state, amounting to 10 times what the state spends on tobacco prevention
Mississippi’s tobacco prevention program, run by the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi, is reducing tobacco use among kids, saving lives and saving money by reducing smoking-caused health care costs. The Partnership’s programs have reduced smoking by 48 percent among public middle school students (from 23 percent in 1999 to 12 percent in 2004) and by 32 percent among public high school students (from 32.5 percent in 1999 to 22.1 percent in 2004). Mississippi’s youth smoking declines far outpace the nation as a whole: during the same period, middle school smoking declined by only 12 percent and high school smoking declined by only 21 percent nationally.
The evidence is also clear that this small investment in tobacco prevention is saving Mississippi taxpayers money by reducing the $662 million a year Mississippians pay in health care bills related to tobacco. The average Mississippi household pays $528 a year in taxes because of tobacco. If the Partnership continues its current level of effort, the state will save $394 million in long-term health care costs, prevent nearly 33,000 kids alive today from starting to smoke, and save 10,500 of them from premature, smoking-caused deaths. Under Barbour’s proposal, smoking rates and smoking caused disease, death, and healthcare costs are likely to increase.
While Barbour claims that Mississippi is spending too much on tobacco prevention, the fact is that the $20 million a year the state spends amounts to just 11 percent of the $175 million a year the state collects from the tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes. It is also barely the minimum amount the CDC recommends the state spend on tobacco prevention. Mississippi should keep the promise of the tobacco settlement and continue to spend $20 million a year of its tobacco settlement money on tobacco prevention. That leaves plenty for other purposes.
• States that have cut funding for once successful tobacco prevention programs, including Florida, Massachusetts and Minnesota, have seen their progress stop and even reverse. Mississippi must not fall into that trap. The only people who stand to gain anything from Governor Barbour's proposal are his former tobacco clients.