Maine a leader in anti-tobacco spending, but more teens are smoking

A University of Maine student smokes outside Fogler Library in 2008.
A University of Maine student smokes outside Fogler Library in 2008. Buy Photo
Posted Nov. 30, 2011, at 6:46 p.m.
Last modified Nov. 30, 2011, at 11:38 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — Maine is one of the top states in terms of spending on tobacco prevention and cessation programs, a new report finds, yet more kids are picking up the habit.

Maine is spending $9.4 million in fiscal year 2012 on its anti-tobacco programs, according to a report released Tuesday by a coalition of public health groups. That’s barely half the $18.5 million recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and $500,000 shy of what the state spent in the last fiscal year. Still, Maine ranks sixth in the country in anti-tobacco spending.

“For the last 10 years, Maine has been a leader in supporting tobacco prevention and control activities,” said Ed Miller, vice president of health promotion and public policy for the American Lung Association of New England. “But the rest of the nation is just doing so badly now that we look good by comparison.”

Only Alaska and North Dakota fund the programs at the level recommended by the CDC to maximize the return on each dollar.

The report found that most states are underfunding tobacco prevention and cessation programs. Cuts have reduced the funding to its lowest levels since 1999, when states first began receiving money from the previous year’s landmark tobacco settlement agreement.

Maine will collect $197 million this year from the settlement and tobacco taxes, but will spend just 4.8 percent of those dollars on tobacco prevention programs, according to a press release from the coalition, which includes the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the American Heart and Lung associations and the American Cancer Society.

“Even in these difficult budget times, tobacco prevention is a smart investment for Maine that will protect kids, save lives and save money by reducing tobacco-related health care costs,” Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said in the release.

Tobacco settlement proceeds are directed to the Fund for a Healthy Maine, while tobacco tax revenues are funneled to the state’s general fund. “Maine has done better than most states in protecting its money from the settlement,” said Becky Smith, chief policy officer for the Maine Public Health Association. However, more than $100 million has been diverted over the years to balance the state budget.

After years of declines in teen smoking rates, Maine saw its rate climb to just over 18 percent in 2009, compared to 19.5 percent nationally, according to CDC data. Maine tied with Illinois at 22nd in the country, a far cry from its fifth place showing in 2007, when 14 percent of Maine teenagers smoked.

Among Maine adults, 62.3 percent reported in 2010 ever having quit smoking, compared to 64.3 percent in 2009, according to CDC data.

While Maine should direct more funding to its anti-tobacco programs, the state has succeeded in slashing the youth smoking rate from roughly 40 percent about a decade ago, Miller said.

“Had we not bent the curve, we’d have a whole generation of 40-plus smokers in this state,” he said.

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