State 6th in protecting children from tobacco

Posted Dec. 09, 2009, at 8:42 p.m.

For the second year in a row, Maine has ranked sixth-best in the nation in funding programs to prevent juveniles from smoking and to help smokers quit, according to a national report released Wednesday by a coalition of public health organizations.

Maine spends $11.8 million a year on tobacco prevention and cessation programs, which is 63.6 percent of the $18.5 million recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Last year, Maine also ranked sixth, spending $11.7 million on tobacco prevention. The spending recommendations are based on population.

Other key findings in the report:

— Maine this year will collect $195 million from tobacco taxes and the 1998 settlement with tobacco companies, but will spend just 6 percent of it on preventing tobacco use.

— Tobacco companies spend $59 million a year to market their products in Maine. This is five times what the state spends on tobacco prevention.

The annual report on states’ funding of tobacco prevention programs titled “A Broken Promise to Our Children: The 1998 State Tobacco Settlement 11 Years Later,” was released by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, the Cancer Action Network, the American Lung Association and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Maine’s tobacco prevention program was launched in 1997 with revenue from cigarette taxes and was later expanded with tobacco settlement money. Since then, Maine has reduced smoking by 71 percent among middle school students and by 64 percent among high school students.

To continue making progress, national health advocates are urging Maine leaders to increase the state cigarette tax by another $1 per pack and to continue investing in tobacco prevention.

In Maine, 14 percent of high school students smoke, and 1,400 more children become regular smokers every year. Each year tobacco claims 2,200 lives and costs the state $602 million in health care bills.

Eleven years after the 1998 state tobacco settlement, the new national report finds that states are collecting record amounts of revenue from the tobacco industry but are spending less of it on tobacco prevention due to budget constraints.

The states this year will collect $25.1 billion from the tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes, but will spend just 2.3 percent of it — $567.5 million — on tobacco prevention programs.

Only nine other states fund prevention programs at even half the CDC-recommended amount, while 31 states and Washington, D.C., are providing less than a quarter of the recommended funding.

Only one state — North Dakota — funds tobacco prevention at the CDC-recommended level.

According to the CDC, tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in the U.S., killing more than 400,000 people and costing $96 billion in health care bills each year.

On the Web:

www.tobaccofreekids.org/reports/settlements.

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