Jan. 31 2008
Washington, D.C. — A diverse coalition of faith leaders today wrote to each of the nation’s governors to urge that they keep the promise of the 1998 state tobacco settlement and use more of the billions of dollars states are receiving each year to properly fund tobacco prevention programs.
“In 1998 when the states entered into historic legal settlements with the tobacco companies, it was widely anticipated that the states would use the money from the tobacco companies to adequately fund programs that work to reduce tobacco use. Unfortunately, most states have broken that promise. We in the faith community believe that our leaders have a moral obligation to keep that promise in order to save countless lives from the horrors of tobacco-caused death and illness,” members of the coalition, called Faith United Against Tobacco, wrote in the letter. (Read the full letter.)
Nine years after reaching $246 billion in legal settlements against the tobacco industry, only three states—Maine, Delaware and Colorado—currently fund tobacco prevention and cessation programs at minimum levels recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), according to a recent report by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and other public health organizations. Thirty states and the District of Columbia funded tobacco prevention programs at less than half the CDC’s recommended minimum last year, while Connecticut provided no new funding, according to the report.
The faith leaders’ letter comes as state legislatures around the nation begin their 2008 sessions. It supports the recommendations of two major recent reports, by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies of Sciences and the President’s Cancer Panel, that urged the states to implement scientifically proven measures to reduce tobacco use, including tobacco prevention and cessation programs funded at CDC-recommended levels, smoke-free workplace laws and higher tobacco taxes.
The letter also comes as the CDC has just updated, and in most cases increased, its recommendations for the amounts each state should spend on tobacco prevention and cessation programs. The new CDC recommendations updated Best Practices guidelines issued in 1999, taking into account new scientific evidence and state experiences in implementing such programs, as well as cost factors such as inflation and population increases. Tobacco prevention and cessation programs consist of public awareness media campaigns, school and community-based education programs, enforcement of laws regarding tobacco sales to minors, and programs to help smokers quit. (View a state-by-state chart of CDC’s updated spending recommendations.)
According to the CDC, if every state funded tobacco prevention and cessation programs at recommended levels, there would be five million fewer smokers nationwide in five years. That would save hundreds of thousands of lives and billions of dollars in health care and other tobacco-related costs.
“Our clergy spend too much time burying mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers who die untimely and grueling deaths because they became addicted to tobacco when they were young. We know all too well how the tobacco companies have spent, and continue to spend, billions of dollars to addict young and old to this deadly product,” the faith leaders’ letter states.
“We believe that those who are called to positions of leadership and power have a moral imperative to safeguard the men, women, and children of our country from the pitfalls of tobacco use,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “We must do more to prevent suffering from tobacco-related illness by reducing the devastating toll of what truly has become a national epidemic.”
While the states collectively will receive a record $25 billion in the current fiscal year from the tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes, they funded tobacco prevention programs at just $717 million, a mere 3 percent of the states’ total revenue from tobacco.
“The terrible toll of tobacco does not discriminate and poses a serious challenge to all major faiths, including Christians, Muslims and Jews,” said Jim Winkler, general secretary of the General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church. “We hope and pray that our public officials will do what is right and listen to this urgent call.”
Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, killing more than 400,000 Americans and costing nearly $100 billion in health care bills each year. Every day in the United States, more than 1,000 kids become regular smokers, and one-third of them will die prematurely as a result.
“States that have invested in tobacco prevention and control are reaping the benefits in the healthier and prolonged lives of mothers, fathers, siblings and grandparents,” said Rabbi David Sapperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. “We know that comprehensive tobacco control programs work, but only if they are given the priority they deserve.”
Faith United Against Tobacco is promoting a Web site to its members and congregants (FaithNotTobacco.org). The Web site helps visitors send e-mails to their governors requesting stronger tobacco control policies.
Faith United Against Tobacco is a partnership of religious groups and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, a national public health advocacy group.