Friday, December 28 – State Lags Behind In Smoking Prevention Funding

BERLIN – A report released last week by several cooperating advocacy groups revealed billions of dollars earmarked for smoking prevention programs directed at kids received by the states in a big settlement with tobacco companies nearly a decade ago are not finding their way to the recommended sources, with Maryland among the top 20 offenders.

The report, called “A Broken Promise to Our Children: the 1998 State Tobacco Settlement Nine Years Later,” was released last week by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association and the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. The annual report assesses whether states are keeping their promise to use proceeds from the 1998 settlement with big tobacco companies to combat smoking among the nation’s children.

Maryland currently allocates around $18.4 million annually for tobacco prevention, which is about 60 percent of the funding the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends for the programs. The CDC recommends the state spend a minimum of $30 million and as much as $78 million each year on tobacco prevention programs for kids. In the report, Maryland ranked 19th this year in terms of meeting the CDC’s recommendations, compared to a ranking of 15th last year.

Maryland is not alone in its failings to meet the minimum standards and is actually far ahead of many other states. Just three states, including neighboring Delaware, currently fund tobacco prevention programs at CDC minimum levels, while only 17 states provide even half of the recommended allocation. Thirty states are spending well under half of the minimum, while one state, Connecticut, has appropriated no funding for tobacco prevention this year.

The report suggests even a modest bump in the funding allocated for tobacco prevention programs would meet the minimum standards recommended by the CDC. The current level of funding across the nation amounts to just three percent of the record $25 billion the states will collected this year from the tobacco settlement and various tobacco taxes. Spending just six percent of the tobacco revenue would fund prevention programs in every state at CDC minimum levels.

After several years of decline in the number of children across the country who smoke, the percentages have leveled off and even increased in many states, a change the report attributes to the lack of funding on effective prevention campaigns. According to the report, over 16 percent of Maryland high school students smoke cigarettes with 7,700 kids under 18 becoming new daily smokers each year. The report also predicts 108,000 kids in Maryland now under the age of 18 will ultimately die prematurely from smoking.

While the report does not break down the figures by county, the most recent data available for Worcester suggests kids in the county smoke at least as much as their counterparts across the state and more in some cases. According to the most recent “Kids Count” book for Worcester, 10 percent of county 6th-graders have tried smoking compared to about four percent of 6th-graders across the state.

Naturally, the figures go up as the grade level increases. For example, over 28 percent of Worcester’s 8th-graders have tried cigarettes, while 38 percent of the 10th-graders and an astounding 45 percent of the 12th-graders regularly light up. For Maryland, the percentages are 18 percent for 8th-graders, 30 percent for 10th-graders and 40 percent for 12th-graders.

Like every other state, Maryland is spending just a drop in the bucket on tobacco education and prevention programs compared to the avalanche of marketing money the big tobacco companies spend each year, much of which is directed at children. For example, the big tobacco marketing machine spent roughly $193 million in Maryland last year compared to the state’s $18.4 million on prevention and education programs.

For the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the staggering difference between what the tobacco companies spend to market their product to children and the amount of money the states spend to fight back is ridiculous.

“It is unacceptable to stand still in the fight against the number preventable cause of death in our country,” said the agency’s executive director, William Corr. “We know what works to reduce smoking, save lives and save money by reducing tobacco-related health care costs. What’s needed is the political leadership to fund and implement these measures as aggressively as the tobacco companies continue to market their deadly and addictive products.”

As Corr suggests, the numbers are even more staggering when the cost of smoking in terms of health care are factored in. For example, in Maryland, the annual health care costs directly caused by smoking totals $1.96 billion, which accounts for about $627 per household on the state and federal tax burden.

“Funding tobacco prevention programs is one of the smartest and most fiscally responsible investments that state governors and legislatures can make,” said American Cancer Society Chief Executive Officer John R. Seffrin. “Yet far too many states are missing this golden opportunity to not only prevent disease and death, but also save money by lowering tobacco-related health care costs.”