Gov. Strickland, Legislative Leaders Break Promise to Protect Ohio?s Kids from Tobacco

Statement of William V. Corr, Executive Director, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

Apr. 2 2008

Washington, D.C. — Governor Ted Strickland and legislative leaders have broken Ohio's promise to protect its kids from tobacco by proposing today to raid funds from the state's highly successful tobacco prevention program, run by the Ohio Tobacco Prevention Foundation. Ohio will pay a high price if this raid is carried out. More kids will become addicted to tobacco, more lives will be lost and Ohio taxpayers will foot the bill for higher tobacco-caused health care costs.

It is penny-wise and pound-foolish to cut tobacco prevention to pay for other programs, no matter how worthwhile they may be. We urge Governor Strickland and legislative leaders to seek other sources of funding for the job stimulus package they unveiled today and to continue protecting the health of Ohio's children by investing in tobacco prevention. Surely Governor Strickland does not want his legacy to be that he left Ohio's kids at the mercy of the tobacco industry, which spends more than $700 million a year to market its deadly and addictive products in Ohio, much of it aimed at kids.

This latest proposal would shred whatever is left of the promise Ohio made to use some of its tobacco settlement funds for programs to prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit. Ohio initially was a leader in using this tobacco money to fight the tobacco problem. But that commitment has dwindled to almost nothing. First, state leaders diverted annual settlement funds from the Ohio Tobacco Prevention Foundation. Then last year, Governor Strickland securitized (sold to investors) future state tobacco settlement payments for a smaller lump-sum payment, which benefitted large financial institutions at the expense of Ohio's kids and taxpayers. Now, the Governor and legislative leaders want to raid what's left of the Foundation's funds.

This proposal would bring to a screeching halt the significant progress Ohio has made in reducing tobacco use and its devastating health and financial toll. The Ohio Tobacco Prevention Foundation has a strong track record of reducing tobacco use among kids, saving lives and saving money by reducing tobacco-caused health care costs. The Foundation's programs have helped reduce smoking by 47.4 percent among middle school students and by 38.6 percent among high school students since 2000. Adult smoking in the state has declined as well, with 22.4 percent of Ohio adults reporting that they smoked in 2007, down from 26.3 percent in 2000.

The evidence is also clear that this small investment in tobacco prevention is saving Ohio taxpayers money by reducing the $4.37 billion a year Ohioans pay in health care bills related to tobacco, including $1.4 billion in Medicaid payments alone. The average Ohio household pays $638 a year in taxes because of tobacco. It's critical that Ohio continue its dedication to tobacco prevention because the tobacco companies are spending $724 million a year marketing their deadly products in the state, amounting to 16 times what the state currently spends on prevention.

Despite Ohio's progress, tobacco remains the state's leading preventable cause of death, claiming 18,600 lives each year. Some 20,800 Ohio kids still become regular smokers each year, one-third of whom will die prematurely as a result. In addition, states that have cut funding for once successful tobacco prevention programs, including Florida, Massachusetts, and Minnesota, have seen their progress stop and even reverse. Ohio must not fall into that trap. Ohio's leaders must reverse course and take a stand for health by continuing to fund tobacco prevention to protect kids, save lives and save money.

 

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