Editorial: The right way to spend tobacco money


Published Jul 11, 2013 at 05:00AM / Updated Nov 19, 2013 at 12:31AM

Oregon’s anti-smoking advocates are poised to get something from the state Legislature that they’ve never received before. For the first time since Oregon began receiving money as part of the 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement, a portion will actually go to anti-smoking programs in the state.

The money, $4 million of the $120 million the state will receive in the next two years, isn’t much. It will, however, boost funds for anti-smoking efforts to $19 million from the current $15 million.

One can argue with the way Oregon has chosen to spend its tobacco settlement money, to be sure. While the settlement did not require that funds go to anti-smoking campaigns, there was a belief in some circles that it should be spent there. Instead, the remaining $116 million of Oregon’s current $120 million chunk will go to other vital health initiatives in the state.

That’s not good enough for some anti-smoking advocates, unfortunately. They argue that it would take $86 million to run a really good anti-smoking campaign, according to The Oregonian newspaper.

Even with far less money than they say they need, anti-smoking groups have made good progress in Oregon. Between 1996 and 2011, smoking among adults fell by 26 percent. More important, smoking among kids has declined by about half. If the fight against obesity were that successful, we’d all be jumping for joy.

It doesn’t mean the effort should stop, of course. Smoking kills people, and it costs the rest of us a bundle in the process. Spending money to get people to kick the habit or never take it up in the first place makes sense.

That said, simply throwing more money into anti-smoking efforts may not be the best way to use settlement money. Supporters of spending more must be able to demonstrate, with facts and figures, that more money means greater success and more important success than spending it on other health programs. Lawmakers, meanwhile, must continue to decide which of Oregon’s health needs are the most critical and put money toward solving them. To date, that’s just what they’ve done.