Jun. 18 2007
Washington, DC — It is deeply disappointing that Governor Haley Barbour’s single-minded campaign to destroy Mississippi’s highly successful tobacco prevention program has resulted in a state Supreme Court ruling denying continued funding for the program without legislative action. Governor Barbour, a former tobacco lobbyist, bears responsibility for destroying one of the nation’s most successful tobacco prevention programs.
If Governor Barbour’s real concern was legislative authority over tobacco settlement funds, as he claims, he would not have vetoed legislation approved last year to provide legislative authorization and oversight for the state’s tobacco prevention programs or vigorously opposed similar legislation this year. With the Legislature having completed its work for the year, the state Supreme Court ruling means that a program that was making an enormous difference will no longer be funded. Governor Barbour’s actions have benefited the tobacco companies he used to represent at the expense of Mississippi’s kids, health and taxpayers.
Unless the Legislature and Governor act, this decision means that Mississippi is no longer keeping the promise it made to the state’s children to dedicate a significant portion of tobacco settlement proceeds to fund programs to prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit. We urge the Mississippi Legislature at its earliest opportunity to enact legislation providing $20 million in annual funding for tobacco prevention and cessation programs and to override Governor Barbour’s veto if necessary. Unless funding for these programs is reinstated, Mississippi will pay a high price with more kids smoking, more lives lost to tobacco and higher health care costs paid by taxpayers.
By dedicating $20 million in tobacco settlement funds for tobacco prevention programs, Mississippi had become a national leader in protecting kids from tobacco. The state’s programs 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). Unless funding is quickly restored for the state’s tobacco prevention programs, these dramatic health gains will quickly come to a halt and begin to reverse.
Mississippi must continue its aggressive and well-funded tobacco prevention programs because thousands of lives and millions of dollars are at stake. Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in the state, claiming more than 4,700 lives and costing the state $719 million annually in health care bills, including $264 million in Medicaid payments alone. Government expenditures related to tobacco amount to a hidden tax of $561 each year on every Mississippi household. Unless the Legislature and Governor quickly restore funding for tobacco prevention, tobacco’s terrible toll will continue to mount.