Big Tobacco’s Best Friend Strikes Again: Barbour’s Veto of Tobacco Prevention Funds Puts Tobacco Interests Before Mississippi Interests

Statement of Matthew L. Myers President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

Mar. 27 2006

Washington, DC — By vetoing the bipartisan bill that provided legislative authorization and oversight for the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi, for the third time this year Governor Haley Barbour has put his loyalty to his former clients from the tobacco industry above the interests of the citizens of Mississippi. This veto follows two earlier vetoes of legislation that would cut Mississippi’s highest-in-the-nation grocery tax and increase its low cigarette tax. The tobacco industry simply could not have asked for more from their former lobbyist who now sits in the governor’s office. Governor Barbour’s actions will lead to more kids smoking by keeping cigarette prices low and leaving kids virtually defenseless against the onslaught of tobacco marketing.

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. These programs have made Mississippi a national leader in protecting kids from tobacco and have set an example for the rest of the nation that other states should follow. 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.

When Governor Barbour attacked the Partnership for a healthy Mississippi earlier this year, he said that he was doing so solely because it was not authorized or overseen by the Mississippi legislature. His veto of legislation passed by both Houses of the Mississippi legislature is doing exactly what he previously demanded and demonstrates that his opposition to the Partnership’s highly successful youth prevention program was nothing more than a smokescreen to protect the tobacco industry. The Mississippi Legislature should override Governor Barbour’s veto and make it clear to the people of Mississippi that it is their interests, and not the interests of Big Tobacco, that they represent.

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.

It is critical that the Legislature override the Governor’s veto because thousands of lives and millions of dollars are at stake. Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in Mississippi, claiming more than 4,700 lives each year and costing the state $662 million annually in health care bills, including $243 million in Medicaid payments alone. Government expenditures related to tobacco amount to a hidden tax of $528 each year on every Mississippi household.

 

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