Faced with tight budgets, states have spent less on preventing tobacco use over the past two years than in any period since the national tobacco settlement in 1998, despite record high revenues from the settlement and tobacco taxes, according to a report to be released today.
States are on track to collect a record $25.7 billion in tobacco taxes and settlement money in the current fiscal year, but they are set to spend less than 2 percent of that on prevention, according to the report, by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, which compiles the revenue data annually. The figures come from state appropriations for the fiscal year ending in June.
The settlement awarded states an estimated $246 billion over its first 25 years. It gave states complete discretion over the money, and many use it for programs unrelated to tobacco or to plug budget holes. Public health experts say it lacks a mechanism for ensuring that some portion of the money is set aside for tobacco prevention and cessation programs.
“There weren’t even gums, let alone teeth," Timothy McAfee, the director of the Office on Smoking and Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said, referring to the allocation of funds for tobacco use prevention and cessation in the terms of the settlement.
Spending on tobacco use prevention peaked in 2002 at $749 million, 63 percent above the level this year. After six years of declines, spending ticked up again in 2008, only to fall by 36 percent during the recession, the report said.
Tobacco use is the No. 1 cause of preventable death in the United States, killing more than 400,000 Americans every year, according to the CDC.
The report did not count federal money for smoking prevention, which Vince Willmore, the vice president for communications at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, estimated to be about $522 million for the past four fiscal years. The sum — about $130 million a year — was not enough to bring spending back to earlier levels.
The $500 million a year that states spend on tobacco prevention is a tiny fraction of the $8 billion a year that tobacco companies spend to market their products, according to a Federal Trade Commission report in September.
Nationally, 19 percent of adults smoke, down from more than 40 percent in 1965. But rates remain high for less-educated Americans. Twenty-seven percent of Americans with only a high school diploma smoke, compared with just 8 percent of those with a college degree or higher, according to CDC data from 2010. The highest rate — 34 percent — was among black men who did not graduate from high school.
“Smoking used to be the rich man’s habit," said Danny McGoldrick, the vice president for research at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, “and now it’s decidedly a poor person’s behavior."
Aggressive anti-smoking programs are the main tools that cities and states have to reach the demographic groups in which smoking rates are the highest, making money to finance them even more critical, McGoldrick said.
The decline in spending comes amid growing certainty among public health officials that anti-smoking programs, like help lines and counseling, actually work. An analysis by Washington state, cited in the report, found that it saved $5 in tobacco-related hospitalization costs for every $1 spent during the first 10 years of its program.