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Virginia Voters: Don't Cut Tobacco Prevention

New Poll Shows Overwhelming Opposition to Diverting Tobacco Prevention Funds to Car Tax Repeal or Other Health Programs
January 18, 2001

Washington, DC — As Governor Jim Gilmore and the Virginia Legislature debate the state's budget, a new poll shows overwhelming support for continuing Virginia's commitment to use 10 percent of its tobacco settlement funds for a comprehensive program to reduce youth smoking.

By large margins, Virginia voters oppose reducing the 10 percent commitment by expanding its use to other health programs, as some have proposed, and even if it means that further reductions in the car tax are not implemented. The survey of 500 registered Virginia voters was released today by the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association, and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

Nearly 90 percent of the voters polled agreed that the governor and the legislature should honor the state's commitment to spend 10 percent of Virginia's tobacco settlement dollars on tobacco prevention. This overwhelming support is consistent across political party lines and demographic subgroups.

'If you're looking for a truly bipartisan issue, protecting kids from tobacco is it,' said Danny McGoldrick, Director of Research at the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids. 'Voters of all stripes across the state clearly understand that the first priority for spending tobacco settlement dollars should be reducing tobacco use.'

By more than a two-to-one margin (64 percent vs. 31 percent), voters want the 10 percent dedicated exclusively to tobacco prevention, rather than using some of this money for other health purposes, as Governor Gilmore and some legislators have proposed.

'Even those of us who think that some of the money can and should be used to address other health issues in Virginia firmly believe that tobacco prevention must be addressed first,' said Jane Weirich of the American Heart Association. 'We must invest tobacco dollars in tobacco prevention strategies that have been proven successful in other states if we want to avoid incurring the costs in lives and dollars that tobacco exacts on the state every year.'

By a large margin (58 percent vs. 33 percent), Virginia voters want to preserve the 10 percent of tobacco settlement funds for tobacco prevention, even if it means no further reductions in Virginia's car tax. Tobacco prevention also draws greater support than reducing the car tax when voters are asked their preferences for spending the state's tobacco settlement money in general. While 85 percent of voters favor spending a significant portion of the settlement on tobacco prevention, including 63 percent who strongly favor this use, just 61 percent favor using the settlement money to reduce the car tax, with only 43 percent strongly in favor.

'These findings clearly show that Virginians put protecting kids from tobacco use ahead of their own immediate self interests; the governor and the legislature should do the same,' said Donna Reynolds of the American Lung Association.

The poll also showed that Virginia voters are overwhelmingly more likely to vote for candidates for the Virginia legislature who support preserving the 10 percent of tobacco settlement dollars for tobacco prevention. Three-fourths of the voters surveyed said they were more likely to vote for such a candidate over one who supports reducing the amount Virginia spends on tobacco prevention. Just 18 percent would be more likely to vote for the candidate who supports cutting the funding for tobacco prevention.

Dimitri Pantazopoulos of Market Strategies, Inc., who conducted the poll, said, 'The results throughout the survey indicate that funding tobacco prevention has strong public support that transcends party lines.'

Finally, when asked how the 40 percent of the tobacco settlement money that has not been committed to tobacco prevention or helping Virginia's tobacco-dependent communities should be spent, voters clearly favored funding health-related measures (prescription drugs, school nurses, and research on tobacco-related diseases) rather than funding a construction program on Virginia college campuses.

'There are many pressing health care needs facing the Commonwealth, but the General Assembly should use the unallocated 40 percent of the tobacco settlement funds to address some of these needs, instead of diluting the prevention monies in the Virginia Tobacco Settlement Foundation. The tobacco settlement represents an unprecedented opportunity to create a healthier future for Virginians. The General Assembly should seize this opportunity, ' said Joy Bechtold of the American Cancer Society.

The survey was conducted by Market Strategies, Inc., a national polling firm that also conducts polling for President-elect Bush. A statewide random sample of 500 registered Virginia voters was interviewed by telephone from January 13 through 15, 2001. The survey has a margin of error of +/- 4.4 percentage points.