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Big Tobacco Wins, Kids and Taxpayers Lose as Maryland Gov. Ehrlich Proposes Slashing Tobacco Prevention Funding in Half

Statement of William V. Corr, Executive Vice President Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
January 17, 2003

Washington, D.C. — Just days after Philip Morris was one of the biggest contributors to his inaugural, Maryland Governor Bob Ehrlich today handed the tobacco industry a big victory by proposing to cut funding for Maryland's tobacco prevention program nearly in half. If Governor Ehrlich gets his way, thousands more of Maryland's kids will become addicted to tobacco and die prematurely and Maryland taxpayers will pay millions more to treat tobacco-caused disease. According to news reports, Philip Morris contributed between $10,000 and $20,000 as a 'Star Spangled Banner' sponsor of Governor Ehrlich's inaugural festivities. In addition, Governor Ehrlich, while a member of Congress, received $23,000 in political contributions from tobacco interests since 1995, according to Federal Election Commission records. Governor Ehrlich's proposal to cut funding for tobacco prevention leaves the clear impression that Big Tobacco's political contributions count for more than the interests of Maryland's children. We urge the Maryland Legislature to reject this proposal and fully fund the state's tobacco prevention program.

Governor Ehrlich's budget proposal would cut funding for Maryland's newly launched tobacco prevention and cessation program from $30 million in Fiscal Year 2003 to $15.2 million in FY2004. Maryland currently is one of only four states that has kept the promise of the 1998 state tobacco settlement and funded tobacco prevention programs at the minimum level recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Under the Ehrlich proposal, Maryland would cease to be a leader in protecting kids from tobacco and fund tobacco prevention at only half the CDC recommendation. While Maryland has tough choices to make to balance its budget, Governor Ehrlich's proposal goes well beyond any fair-shared sacrifice and singles out this one program for disproportionate cuts. This is a penny-wise, pound-foolish decision that ignores the evidence that tobacco prevention programs can help solve state budget woes by reducing smoking-caused health care costs. The best tobacco prevention programs are saving up to $3 in health care costs for every dollar spent.

Despite facing a budget deficit, Maryland is actually collecting more tobacco-generated revenue than ever before this year because the state increased its cigarette tax by 34 cents a pack on June 1. To meet the CDC funding recommendation for tobacco prevention, Maryland only needs to spend 6.8 percent of the $444 million in tobacco revenue it is collecting this year from tobacco taxes and the tobacco settlement, leaving plenty for other purposes. It's only right that Maryland use some of its tobacco money to solve the tobacco problem.

It is especially distressing that Governor Ehrlich's budget eliminates funding for evaluation of Maryland's tobacco prevention program. This is a strategy advocated by the tobacco industry to make it more difficult to determine whether tobacco prevention programs are reducing smoking rates and therefore more difficult to defend these programs from political attack. We urge the Legislature to restore these important evaluation funds and head off what appears to be a gambit to eliminate the program entirely. Surely Governor Ehrlich, who campaigned on a promise to make government more efficient, does not mean to eliminate the very means of measuring whether the tobacco prevention program is working.

In addition, Governor Ehrlich's budget appears to be in violation of a 1999 Maryland law that requires the governor's budget to include $21 million for the state's tobacco prevention program.

Comprehensive tobacco prevention programs are proven to reduce smoking, save lives and save money for taxpayers. States that have had successful programs include Florida, which cut smoking by 47 percent among high school students and 30 percent among middle school students between 1998 and 2001; Oregon, which cut smoking by 41 percent among eighth graders between 1996 and 2000; and Mississippi, which cut public high school smoking by 25 percent from 1999 to 2001. Studies show California, which started the nation's oldest tobacco prevention program in 1990, has saved tens of thousands of lives by reducing smoking-caused birth complications, heart disease, strokes and lung cancer.

In Maryland, 23.7 percent of high school students currently smoke, and 12,200 more kids become regular, daily smokers every year, one-third of whom will die prematurely. Smoking-caused health care costs Maryland and its taxpayers $1.53 billion a year. It's not too late for Maryland's leaders to do the right thing for the state's kids and taxpayers and reject this cut to tobacco prevention.