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Report criticizes smoking prevention spending

Messenger-Inquirer - 1/5/2019

Jan. 05--In fiscal year 2018, states collectively received more than $27 billion in tobacco tax revenue and settlement payments from the landmark lawsuit that states waged against Big Tobacco in the late 1990s.

The mammoth legal settlement recently turned 20 years old. During its first 25 years, tobacco companies are expected to pay an estimated $246 billion to assist states with the burden of increased health care costs related to tobacco use.

However, a recently published report scolds states -- including Kentucky -- for not dedicating more of those funds to tackle health problems caused by tobacco and to snuff out smoking. Even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends setting aside 20 percent of annual tobacco revenue for that purpose, states pump almost all of those funds into budget shortfalls and other priorities.

In fact, four states -- Connecticut, Missouri, Tennessee and West Virginia -- didn't commit any tobacco revenue to address health issues related to smoking or prevention programs this fiscal year, the study shows.

A cadre of respected organizations, including the American Heart Association, American Lung Association and Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, published the report, which ranks Kentucky 35th for the percentage of tobacco revenue it spends on prevention efforts.

"Not a single state currently funds tobacco prevention programs at the level recommended by the CDC," the report said.

The legal settlement did not dictate how states would use the windfall. State lawmakers may use it for any purpose.

In fiscal year 2019, Kentucky is expected to take in more than $500 million in total tobacco revenue. Of that, the CDC recommends spending about $56 million on prevention.

Kentucky lawmakers allocated $3.8 million.

However, the tobacco industry is expected to spend $277 million marketing products in the state this fiscal year, according to the report.

"Kentucky simply can no longer afford this off-kilter equation," Ben Chandler, chairman of the Coalition for a Smoke-Free Tomorrow, said in a recent press release. "The Master Settlement Agreement was intended to help mitigate the cost of Big Tobacco's addiction-model business plan."

Last fiscal year, Kentucky used the lion's share of its tobacco revenue for several purposes, including debt service on rural water and sewer lines, health care and childhood development, and a number of agriculture-related programs, according to state officials.

In the U.S., the percentage of annual payments from tobacco companies that is spent on smoking prevention has dropped over time, said the Public Health Law Center of St. Paul, Minnesota.

"In fact, few states have allocated more than a nominal amount of their tobacco settlement revenue to fund tobacco prevention and cessation programs, making tobacco control programs the smallest state budget category to receive MSA funds," the PHLC said.

In 2001, the percentage of Big Tobacco payments going to cessation programs equaled 6 percent. By 2015, the percentage had slipped to 2 percent.

Another ongoing issue that states must deal with: Tobacco companies spend $1 million every hour nationwide marketing their products.

State governments don't seem willing or able to match that firepower.

"We'd like to have a level playing field," said Richard Nading, Green River District Health Department tobacco control coordinator. "But I don't think that can happen."

In the meantime, the public's costs related to smoking continue to mount.

For one thing, almost 9,000 Kentucky residents die annually as a result of smoking -- a preventable cause.

The state's annual health care expenses directly related to tobacco hit $1.92 billion last year, according to the report.

Also, every household in the state shares in the annual tax burden associated with tobacco use. It amounts to $1,116 per household.

"In Daviess County alone, $43 million of our tax burden goes to take care of health issues related to smoking," Nading said. "Think what we could do with that money."

Renee Beasley Jones, 270-228-2835, rbeasleyjones@messenger-inquirer.com

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(c)2019 the Messenger-Inquirer (Owensboro, Ky.)

Visit the Messenger-Inquirer (Owensboro, Ky.) at www.messenger-inquirer.com

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