HHS Prevention and Wellness Initiative, Including Tobacco Control, Is Smart Investment in America's Health

Statement by Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

Sep. 17 2009

Washington, D.C. — The Communities Putting Prevention to Work initiative announced today by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which includes support for strategies to reduce tobacco use, is a smart investment in the nation's health that will save lives, prevent disease and help reduce health care costs. This investment, made possible by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, will also create jobs and strengthen the nation's public health infrastructure, which will help build stronger, healthier communities.

The HHS initiative will provide a total of $650 million for evidence-based prevention and wellness strategies that reduce tobacco use, increase physical activity, improve nutrition and decrease obesity. In the first part of this initiative, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius today announced that communities and tribes can apply for $373 million in grants to address these public health challenges under the leadership of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

We urge communities and tribes applying for these grants to include evidence-based strategies and programs that are proven to reduce tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke. There are few public health measures that have a stronger evidence base than the programs and policies that have significantly reduced tobacco use in states and communities across the country. Research and experience have demonstrated conclusively that comprehensive tobacco prevention and cessation programs reduce tobacco use, save lives and save money by reducing tobacco-related health care costs.

In California, adult smoking rates were reduced by 35 percent after implementation of its pioneering Tobacco Control Program, and a recent study found that the state's program saved $86 billion in health care costs between 1989 and 2004. Maine has seen smoking rates decline by 71 percent for middle schools students and 64 percent for high school students since 1997, preventing more than 26,000 young people from smoking and saving the state $416 million in future health care costs. New York City, which has one of the nation's most comprehensive efforts to reduce tobacco use, reduced adult smoking by 26 percent between 2002 and 2008, resulting in 350,000 fewer smokers.

Preventing disease is a critical component of reforming the nation's health care system. The new HHS initiative is an important down payment on prevention and sends a powerful message that preventing disease should be valued as much as treating it. Now it is critical that health care reform build on this initiative by including funding for prevention and coverage of smoking cessation services.

Tobacco use, the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, is an excellent example of the opportunities presented by prevention. Each year, tobacco use is responsible for more than 400,000 deaths and nearly $100 billion in health care costs in the U.S. Tobacco use contributes to many costly and debilitating chronic diseases, causing 21 percent of all coronary heart disease deaths, 30 percent of all cancer deaths and 90 percent of deaths from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

We applaud HHS Secretary Sebelius and CDC Director Thomas Frieden for their leadership in announcing this important prevention initiative today. We also applaud Senate HELP Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) and House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-WI) for championing the prevention and wellness fund in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

More information on the HHS initiative is available online.

 

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