$25 million needed for anti-smoking goal, group says
RALEIGH -- A coalition of anti-smoking groups told the state Health and Wellness Trust Fund Commission on Tuesday that starting a statewide program next year to help prevent and stop smoking would cost $25 million.
The commission is charged with distributing about $1.15 billion from the state's share of the 1998 national tobacco settlement. It has about $74 million in settlement money now and expects to receive $41 million more each year through 2025.
It has already decided to spend a substantial portion of the money on a prescription drug plan for the elderly, a plan Gov. Mike Easley strongly supports, but for two or three years, after which the state would be asked to take over funding. It is unclear how much the group would earmark for the drug plan, but commission members have discussed setting aside from $20 million to $60 million a year.
By setting up a subcommittee to address the prevention and cessation of smoking among teens and another to focus on research, education and prevention, the commission has also signaled that it is likely to spend at least some money on anti-smoking efforts.
The state has the third-highest rate of adult tobacco use in the nation, and 15 percent of North Carolina children in grades six through eight smoke cigarettes, compared with 9.2 percent nationwide.
The anti-smoking coalition presented a comprehensive plan to combat smoking to the commission Tuesday. The main elements include persuading more school systems to ban the use of tobacco entirely -- 14 of the state's 117 school districts do so now -- as well as cutting sales to minors, promoting smoke-free laws and policies, launching a heavy media campaign and fostering local cessation programs, such as those set up by students in specific schools.
Kurt Ribisl, an assistant professor in the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, cited successful programs in other states, and cautioned against trying to economize by simplifying the approach.
"It's really a combination of all these elements at once that's effective," he said. "You can't just pick an element or two and concentrate on those alone."
Guidelines developed by the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta say it would take at least $43 million a year to run a successful anti-smoking program in North Carolina. The anti-smoking proponents said the plan would require substantially less once it got started, although in five to 10 years the funding should approach the CDC recommendation.
Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue, who heads the commission, said she expects it to start seeking proposals for grants for efforts that address teen smoking, education and prevention by February and to move even more quickly on the prescription drug plan. The drug plan is expected to be the key topic of the commission's next meeting, Nov. 14.