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The Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi Honored As National Leader In Protecting Kids from Tobacco

Group Receives First Ever “Keeping the Promise” Award for Using Tobacco Settlement Funds To Reduce Tobacco Use
January 18, 2005

Jackson, MS — The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids today honored The Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi as a national leader in protecting kids from tobacco, presenting The Partnership with the Campaign’s first ever “Keeping the Promise” Award for its success in using tobacco settlement funds to dramatically reduce smoking by Mississippi’s children.

While most states have failed to keep their promise to use settlement funds to fund tobacco prevention programs, Mississippi for six years in a row has funded a tobacco prevention program at levels recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The program, run by the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi, is one of the most successful in the nation. Between 1998 and 2003, Mississippi reduced smoking by 52 percent among public middle school students and 28 percent among public high school students.

If Mississippi and The Partnership continue their tobacco prevention efforts, public health experts say the state will save lives by reducing smoking-caused deaths, which currently total 4,900 a year in Mississippi, and save money by reducing smoking-caused health care costs, which currently total $561 million a year in Mississippi including $206 million a year under the Medicaid program.

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, based in Washington, DC, issues an annual report grading the states on their funding of tobacco prevention programs and has consistently found Mississippi to be one of the top states. This year, the Campaign is establishing its “Keeping the Promise” Award to recognize states that have done the best job of protecting kids from tobacco. Campaign President Matthew L. Myers today presented The Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi with the first “Keeping the Promise” Award at The Partnership’s annual community celebration.

“Mississippi is setting an example for the nation in protecting kids from tobacco, and we have the Partnership to thank for that,” Myers said. “The Partnership has proven to be a smart investment that is dramatically reducing smoking, saving lives and saving money by reducing smoking-caused health care costs. It is in the best interest of Mississippi’s kids and taxpayers that the state continue to utilize its settlement money to fund the Partnership and its exceptional tobacco prevention efforts.”

Despite the extraordinary declines in youth smoking, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, a former tobacco industry lobbyist, has proposed eliminating The Partnership’s funding to pay for other programs, including Medicaid. Rather than solving the state’s Medicaid budget problems, Governor Barbour’s proposal risks making them worse by increasing Medicaid spending on smoking-caused health care.

“Governor Barbour expresses concern about the tax burden on Mississippi taxpayers, yet his plan to eliminate funding for tobacco prevention would actually increase that tax burden by increasing smoking-caused health care costs under Medicaid and other government programs,” Myers said. “Every Mississippi household currently pays $463 a year in taxes because of smoking-caused government expenditures. This is a hidden tobacco tax on every Mississippi family and every Mississippi business that Governor Barbour can reduce by supporting proven measures to reduce tobacco use, including continued funding for The Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi and an increase in the state’s cigarette tax. We urge Governor Barbour to support the interests of the Mississippi families he now represents and not the interests of the tobacco companies he used to represent.”

Rather than cut funding for The Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi, health advocates and many legislators have proposed increasing the state cigarette tax by $1 per pack and utilizing some of the revenue to bolster the state’s Medicaid program.

Increasing the tobacco tax is a win-win-win solution for Mississippi – a health win that will reduce tobacco use and tobacco-caused disease, death and health care costs; a fiscal win that will help fund important programs such as Medicaid and balance the budget; and a political win that is popular with voters. A recent poll found that 63.5 percent of Mississippi voters would support a $1 per pack cigarette tax increase. The evidence is clear that increasing the price of cigarettes is one of the most effective ways to reduce smoking, especially among children and pregnant women. Studies show that every 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes reduces youth smoking rates by about seven percent and overall cigarette consumption by about four percent. In addition, every state that has significantly increased its cigarette tax in recent years has enjoyed substantial increases in revenue even while reducing cigarette sales.

Governor Barbour has argued that raising taxes would hurt business in Mississippi. However, raising the cigarette tax and funding the Partnership’s tobacco prevention programs would actually benefit businesses by reducing their smoking-caused health care expenditures. Lower smoking rates, and lower smoking-caused health care expenditures, can actually help create a more competitive economic climate that can help Mississippi attract business.

The governor has also argued that a higher tobacco tax would fall disproportionately on low-income taxpayers. This argument has it backwards: It’s the harms from smoking that are regressive, with low-income individuals and communities suffering disproportionately from smoking-caused disease, disability, death and costs. Raising cigarette taxes will cause more low-income smokers to quit or cut back, thereby improving their health and reducing their smoking-related expenditures.