Aug. 30 2006
Washington, DC — Today's announcement by Governor Chris Gregoire that adult smoking rates in Washington have declined significantly is proof positive 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, Secretary of Health Mary Selecky, 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 future generations are protected from tobacco's devastating consequences. Future funding for Washington's highly successful tobacco program is not secure. 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 is currently funded at a level of at least $27.2 million a year with a combination of revenue from the 1998 state tobacco settlement and the cigarette tax approved by voters in 2001. It is imperative that Washington's leaders make it a priority 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 17.8 percent in 2005, moving Washington from having the 20th lowest adult smoking rate to the fifth 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 205,000 fewer smokers in the state. As announced last year, 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 $1.8 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 $27.2 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.
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.