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Missouri is Dead Last in Protecting Kids from Tobacco Because of Legislature's Failure to Fund Tobacco Prevention

Statement of William V. Corr Executive Vice President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
May 13, 2002

Washington, DC — Missouri is now dead last in the nation in protecting its kids and taxpayers from the terrible toll of tobacco because of the Legislature's failure to provide any funding for tobacco prevention. Missouri citizens should be outraged that the state's leaders have broken the promise of the 1998 state tobacco settlement and failed to use a single penny out of the $140 million in settlement funds the state has received so far to address the tobacco problem. While Missouri has difficult budgetary choices to make, this is a penny-wise, pound-foolish decision. The Legislature's decision ignores the enormous harm tobacco use now causes in Missouri and the conclusive evidence that tobacco prevention programs are saving lives and far more money than they cost. We call on the Legislature and Gov. Bob Holden to seize the first opportunity to reverse this shortsighted decision and restore funding for a program that once showed so much promise.

Tobacco prevention programs can produce immediate savings to Medicaid and other government health care programs by reducing the incidence of low-birth-weight infants born to smoking mothers, and over time the best programs are saving up to $3 for every dollar spent on prevention by reducing health care expenditures for lung cancer, heart disease and other tobacco-caused diseases. By failing to fund tobacco prevention, Missouri's leaders are missing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to achieve these savings and improve the health of the state's citizens. The state will pay a high price – more kids will become addicted to tobacco, more lives will be lost and taxpayers will pay more to treat smoking-caused diseases.

In January of this year, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, along with the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association and the American Lung Association, issued a report ranking all the states based on their commitment to tobacco prevention programs. Based on the FY02 Appropriations, Missouri was ranked 15th. With funding for the program eliminated for both FY02 and FY03, Missouri falls to the bottom of the list – behind even tobacco-growing neighbor-state Kentucky.

This decision is inexcusable in light of the evidence from around the country that tobacco prevention programs are working to protect kids, save lives, and save money. Florida, for example, reduced smoking rates by 47 percent among middle school students and 30 percent among high school students in three years, while Mississippi has cut public high school smoking 25 percent since 1999. California's pioneering program has prevented tens of thousands of deaths from heart disease and lung cancer. And prevention programs are saving states hundreds of millions of dollars in health care costs.

Tobacco's toll in Missouri is devastating. 17,100 kids become regular, daily smokers every year, one-third of whom will die prematurely as a result. Smoking costs Missouri $1.6 billion in direct medical care costs and an additional $2.1 billion in lost productivity each year, according to a recent report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Eliminating tobacco prevention now is a shortsighted approach that will cost all Missourians more in the long run.