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Ohio Supreme Court Decision Allowing Raid on Tobacco Prevention Funds is Bad News for State's Health

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
December 22, 2010

Washington, D.C. - It is deeply disappointing and bad news for Ohio's health that the Ohio Supreme Court today upheld the 2008 decision by Governor Ted Strickland and the General Assembly to raid $230 million in tobacco settlement funds from the state's tobacco prevention and cessation programs. The Court ignored a legally binding commitment the Governor and General Assembly had made in 2000 to place a portion of the state's settlement funds in an endowment to fund tobacco prevention programs.

Regardless of this decision, it is in Ohio's best interest for Governor-elect John Kasich and the incoming General Assembly to fund robust programs to prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit. Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in Ohio. Every year, tobacco kills 18,500 Ohio residents, addicts 18,100 Ohio kids and costs Ohio families and taxpayers $4.4 billion in health care bills. Tobacco's terrible toll will continue to rise, and Ohio's kids and families will pay the price, unless state leaders properly fund tobacco prevention and cessation programs.

To reduce tobacco use and its toll in health, lives and dollars, Ohio's leaders should increase the state tobacco tax and use some of the revenue to restore funding for tobacco prevention and cessation programs. Ohio's cigarette tax, currently $1.25 per pack, has not been increased since 2005 and has fallen below the national average of $1.45 per pack.

It is outrageous that this year, Ohio will collect $1.2 billion in tobacco revenue from the 1998 state tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes, but will spend none of it on tobacco prevention programs. Ohio is tied for last in the nation in funding such programs. Ohio's failure to fund tobacco prevention is truly penny-wise and pound-foolish given tobacco's devastating health and financial toll on the state. In raiding the tobacco prevention funds, Governor Strickland and the General Assembly left a shameful legacy of poorer health and higher tobacco-related health care costs for Ohio.

Before this raid, Ohio had a highly successful tobacco prevention program that had helped reduce the state's adult smoking rate by 27 percent between 2001 and 2008 (from 27.7 to 20.2 percent). Now Ohio has no tobacco prevention program at all and the state's smoking rate has stopped declining.

We applaud all those who have waged the valiant court battle to stop this raid and protect funding for tobacco prevention, including especially Legacy.