States snuff out smoking prevention programs

Gregory Warner Dec 28, 2011

Jeremy Hobson: New York City released a report this week which found that ever since the city implemented its smoking ban in 2002, the number of deaths from heart disease has dropped by 28 percent.

Cities and states around the country have implemented similar bans on smoking in public places, but they’ve also been trying to reduce smoking by raising taxes on cigarettes. That way, more people quit smoking and the government gets more money.

But this year, a funny thing happened. States didn’t raise their cigarette taxes very much. And they slashed the funds they use to help people quit.

From our Health Desk at WHYY in Philadelphia, Gregory Warner reports.

Gregory Warner: Let’s do the numbers — the tobacco numbers. States will rake in over $25 billion this year from tobacco taxes and tobacco settlement money. States will spend less than 2 cents on the dollar toward programs that help people quit smoking.

Dan Cronin: They haven’t invested the money they’re getting to fund these prevention and cessation programs.

Dan Cronin at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids has released a map of state spending on prevention. No surprise here, rich states like Alaska and North Dakota are spending money at the recommended level, 10 cents on the dollar.

Cronin: And you have a number of states, like Connecticut, Ohio, Nevada and New Hampshire are not spending money at all! 

Cheryl Healton of the American Legacy Foundation says this is short-sighted at best. 

Cheryl Healton: For every dollar that a state spends controlling the tobacco epidemic in their state, they reap at a minimum $5 in return.

Mostly in preventing premature births and chronic asthma which drive up health care costs. So why did states cut, by one third, their budgets for prevention programs? Healton says there’s a growing conflict of interest — states depend on the money they’re making from tobacco taxes to plug holes in the deficit.

Healton: Their fear is a short term loss of revenue, but what they’re producing for their state is a long term budgetary crisis related to the health care costs associated with smoking. 

Those costs, she says, fall primarily on low-income Americans, who are the majority of smokers in this country. Seventy percent of people try to quit every year — 5 percent succeed.

 In Philadelphia, I’m Gregory Warner for Marketplace.

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