May. 30 2006
Wahsington, DC — Today's court decision denying continued funding for Mississippi's highly successful tobacco prevention program is the result of Governor Haley Barbour's single-minded campaign to kill this program to the benefit of his former clients from the tobacco industry. Unless funding for this program is restored, Mississippi's kids and taxpayers will pay the price, and Barbour the former tobacco lobbyist should bear direct responsibility because it will lead to more kids smoking, more Mississippians dying from cancer, and higher health care costs that will be paid by Mississippi taxpayers.
We urge the Mississippi Legislature to enact legislation restoring the $20 million in annual funding for the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi at the earliest possible opportunity and to override Governor Barbour's veto of such legislation if necessary. Unless the Supreme Court overturns this ruling or the Legislature restores funding, Mississippi will quickly go from having one of the best tobacco prevention programs in the nation to having none at all.
We also believe that the court interpreted its authority too narrowly in today's decision. Under the court's equitable power, it does have the legal authority to require the continued funding of the Partnership in order to undo the harm caused by the tobacco industry that led to Mississippi's lawsuit in the first place.
In today's ruling, Jackson County Chancellor Jaye Bradley acknowledged that the Partnership ran "arguably the most successful tobacco cessation program in the nation." Judge Bradley's assessment is correct; the 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 has made Mississippi a national leader in protecting kids from tobacco and has set an example for the nation. 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. Unless the Partnership's funding is restored and sustained, these dramatic health gains will quickly come to a halt and begin to reverse.
If the Supreme Court does not overturn this decision, the Legislature should take whatever action is necessary to restore funding for the Partnership 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.