State cuts in anti-smoking programs tied to rise in tobacco use

Posted: 7/11/2011

From The Daily:

Smoking may be on the rise again, after decades of steady declines. And government doctors say they've identified the culprit: massive cutbacks to state-run anti-smoking programs, as money from the 1998 settlement with tobacco companies is increasingly used for other purposes.

Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have closely tracked program cutbacks and monitored their effect on the percentage of U.S. adults who smoke.

"What we have seen is that states that continue to aggressively address tobacco use, by continuing to push these programs, are more likely to show declines," said Tim McAfee, director of the CDC's Office on Smoking and Health. "And states that have abandoned these approaches have flat-lined."

In the decade after the settlement, the number of adult smokers declined steadily from 24.1 percent to 19.8 percent.

But recent data suggest that promising decrease has stalled. Last year, a handful of states saw small increases in smokers, with Ohio experiencing a significant jump.

As recently as 2005, Ohio was spending more than $50 million on smoking prevention programs each year, according to the state's Department of Health. The programs seemed to work. The state achieved a rapid decline in smokers, bottoming out at 20.3 percent.

But in 2008, during a budget crisis, then-Gov. Ted Strickland, shifted proceeds from the tobacco fund to finance other programs, and by 2009, the tobacco programs funding was cut to $6 million. By last year, 22.5 percent of Ohioans were smoking.

This year's budget, which was finalized Thursday, doesn't boost prevention programs.

"Our governor and legislature have said there are many worthy programs, but we can't fund them all," said Shelly Kiser, director of advocacy for the American Lung Association of Ohio. However, "the smoking rate for Medicaid recipients is over 40 percent, double the rate of our full population. The state is paying to treat the tobacco-related illnesses."

In Washington state, 15.2 percent of adults smoke, a slight increase from the 14.9 percent who smoked last year. The state's anti-smoking program, once hailed as one of the nation's best, has been all but eliminated.

"We are very concerned with the reversals we are seeing in several states," said Vince Willmore, spokesman for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. "The evidence is strong and consistent that tobacco prevention programs reduce smoking among kids and adults."

In the past three years, funding for tobacco prevention programs nationwide has decreased by 28 percent -- even as tobacco tax revenue has increased by 31 percent, according to the CDC.

Most anti-smoking programs are partially funded by the 1998 tobacco litigation settlement that allotted $206 billion to states, to be doled out over 25 years.

This year, states will collect about $25.3 billion from the settlement and tobacco taxes combined. But they'll spend a mere 2 percent of that -- $517.9 million -- on tobacco prevention, according to CDC figures.

Only two states -- Alaska and North Dakota -- spend as much on prevention programs as the CDC recommends. Both states continue to see declines in their smoking rates.McAfee discounted theories that declining smoking rates would have hit a plateau regardless, as the recession-related stress drove more people to spark up and cash-strapped light smokers to quit while heavily addicted ones kept puffing.

Most troubling of all, rates of smoking among youth have pretty much stopped declining. About 17 percent of high school teens have smoked in the last month. That's a significant reduction since 2000, when 28 percent of teens were smokers, but the majority of that decline happened before 2005. Since then, teen smoking has only been curtailed by around 2 percentage points.

"If we would have continued the decline for the past six years, we would have driven the number of kids who smoke down to 8 percent," McAfee said. "We would have almost eradicated smoking as an issue in youth. And 3 million children would not have started."

Original here.