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Coalition of Faith Groups Urges States to Fund Programs To Protect Kids From Tobacco

January 23, 2004

Washington, DC — A diverse coalition of national faith leaders today wrote to each of the nation’s governors to urge that they keep the promise of the 1998 state tobacco settlement and use some of the billions of dollars the states are receiving each year to properly fund tobacco prevention programs.

“State leaders pledged to use the money coming from the tobacco companies to adequately fund programs that work to reduce tobacco use. We in the faith community believe state leaders have a moral obligation to keep that pledge in order to save countless lives from the horrors of tobacco-caused death and illness,” members of the coalition, called Faith United Against Tobacco, wrote in the letter.

Their request is being made as state legislatures around the nation begin their sessions and coincides with the 40th anniversary of the first Surgeon General’s report on the hazards of smoking, which was released in January, 1964. The report was the first to officially recognize that smoking cigarettes causes cancer and other serious diseases.

Coalition leaders are taking issue with the states’ failure to use tobacco settlement revenues to address the tobacco problem. Five years after reaching $246 billion in legal settlements against the tobacco industry, only four states – Maine, Delaware, Mississippi and Arkansas – currently fund tobacco prevention and cessation programs at minimum levels recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), according to a recent report by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and other public health organizations. Thirty-eight states and the District of Columbia fund tobacco prevention programs at less than half the CDC minimum, or provide no state funding at all, according to the report.

Health experts say tobacco use remains the leading preventable cause of death in the U.S, and 90 percent of smokers become addicted as youths. Tobacco use kills 440,000 Americans and costs the nation $75 billion in health care bills annually, according to the CDC. Nearly a quarter of high school students still graduate as smokers, and another 2,000 kids become addicted smokers every day, one-third of whom will die prematurely as a result.

Health advocates say significant reductions in tobacco use are unlikely to be achieved without an aggressive effort to implement proven tobacco control measures, including comprehensive, well-funded state tobacco prevention and cessation programs, tobacco tax increases, smoke-free workplace policies, and increased public and private insurance coverage of smoking cessation therapies.

“Our clergy spends much too much time burying mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers who die an untimely and grueling death because they became addicted to tobacco when they were young,” the faith leaders’ letter states. “We know all too well how the tobacco companies have spent, and continue to spend, hundreds of millions of dollars to addict young and old to this deadly product. We also know that you can reduce this addiction, particularly among vulnerable children, by fully funding tobacco prevention programs designed by the CDC. For our children's sake, we urge you to do so.”

While states have cut funding for tobacco prevention in recent years, the tobacco companies have increased marketing expenditures for tobacco products to record levels. The tobacco companies spend $11.5 billion a year, or $31.4 million a day, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). That is 20 times more than all of the states combined spend on tobacco prevention.

According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, tobacco prevention programs are proven to reduce smoking, save lives, and save money. Maine has reduced smoking by 48 percent among high school students and 59 percent among middle school students since launching its tobacco prevention program in 1997. Mississippi reduced smoking by 48 percent among public middle school students and 29 percent among public high school students between 1999 and 2002. Studies show California’s program, started in 1990, has helped save tens of thousands of lives by reducing smoking-caused heart disease, lung cancer and other diseases. The best tobacco prevention programs are saving as much as $3 in smoking-caused health costs for every dollar spent on tobacco prevention.

“Tobacco does not discriminate and is a serious challenge to all major faiths, including Christians, Muslims and Jews,” said James Winkler, General Secretary of the General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church. “We hope and pray that public officials will do what is right and listen to our call.”

“We must do more to reduce and prevent suffering from tobacco-related illness,” said Bishop Douglas Miles of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance. “States that have invested in tobacco prevention and control are reaping the benefits in the healthier and prolonged lives of mothers, fathers, siblings and grandparents. Comprehensive tobacco control programs work, but only if they are given priority.”

Faith United Against Tobacco is promoting a web site to its members and congregants, The site helps visitors send emails to their governors requesting stronger tobacco control policies.

Faith United Against Tobacco is a partnership of religious groups and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, a national public health advocacy group.