2013-09-14 / Viewpoints

Penny Wise, Pound Foolish


Matthew L. Myers is president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.)

The numbers are in. States last year collected a record $25.7 billion in revenue from the 1998 tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes, but spent less than two percent of it ($459.5 million) on programs to prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit.

Most states are falling woefully short of funding levels for tobacco prevention and cessation programs recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

They have also failed to reverse deep budget cuts to these programs that have set back the nation’s efforts to reduce tobacco use, which kills more than 400,000 Americans each year and is the number one cause of preventable death in the United States.

CDC recommends that Pennsylvania spend $155.5 million a year to have an effective, comprehensive tobacco prevention program. Pennsylvania currently allocates $14.2 million. Spending on tobacco prevention amounts to 1 percent of the estimated $1.4 billion in tobacco-generated revenue the state collects each year from settlement payments and tobacco taxes.

There is growing evidence that tobacco prevention programs work. One recent study found that Washington State saved more than $5 in tobacco-related hospitalization costs for every $1 spent. Given such a strong return on investment, states are being penny-wise and poundfoolish.

While the nation has made enormous progress in reducing smoking, these declines have slowed in recent years. Nationally, 19 percent of adults and 18.1 percent of high school students still smoke.

Elected officials at all levels should aggressively implement proven strategies to reduce tobacco use. In addition to increasing funding for tobacco prevention programs, states must step up the pace in enacting tobacco tax increases and smoke-free workplace laws.

Nationally, priorities include preservation of the Prevention and Public Health Fund created by the Affordable Care Act; continuation of the highly successful national media campaign launched by the CDC earlier this year; ensuring that health insurers provide the coverage for tobacco cessation treatments, and effective implementation of the Food and Drug Administration’s authority to regulate tobacco products.

We know how to win the fight against tobacco, but it will require strong leadership and action. The more smokers we convince to stop smoking, and the more kids we prevent from ever starting, not only saves future dollars, but improves the overall health of our nation.

These programs work and it’s time for states to put more skin in the game.

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