A Fight for Tobacco Cash
SANTA FE -- Anti-smoking groups plan to wage an intense campaign in the Roundhouse beginning next week to win $4.7 million from the state's settlement with big tobacco companies.
"For years, the tobacco companies spent billions and billions of dollars enticing our children to smoke; now is the time for our legislators to spend some of that very same tobacco company money enticing our children not to smoke," said Linda Siegle, a lobbyist for the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society.
New Mexico expects to receive $1.2 billion over the next 25 years in a multistate settlement over the public health-care costs of smoking.
Siegle said a coalition of health organizations is planning to draw on its "enormous grass-roots network" to lobby legislators this year. Letters, phone calls and a series of small newspaper ads will target lawmakers, she said.
Members of the legislative Tobacco Settlement Committee hammered out recommendations in December for spending a portion of the state's first settlement payment on prevention, education, research and youth programs.
Included in the list was $4.7 million, championed by a coalition of health organizations, for programs to keep people from smoking and to help smokers quit.
But the Legislative Finance Committee, which drafts state budget proposals, recommended earlier this month that $500,000 of the settlement money go directly to smoking-prevention programs.
Another $9.3 million should be used for programs designated by lawmakers, especially substance-abuse treatment and stop-smoking efforts, according to the finance committee's recommendation.
Siegle's group and other organizations are stinging from that recommendation because they say it appears to ignore the Tobacco Settlement Committee's recommendations.
Supporters of a proposed trust fund to provide money for youth programs throughout the state, called the Next Generation Fund, also plan to lobby lawmakers heavily, representatives of groups that would benefit from the fund said this week.
The Tobacco Settlement Committee recommended that about $5.8 million go to the Next Generation Fund next year.
The 30-day legislative session begins Tuesday.