Health panel funds teen smoking program with tobacco payments
RALEIGH â€” A state health panel voted Wednesday to spend $18.6 million over three years in national tobacco settlement payments on programs to stop and prevent teen smoking.
The expenditure, discussed in Greenville during a teen smoking forum last month, was the largest commitment of state funds ever to help combat teen smoking in North Carolina.
It's well short of the $43 million a year recommended by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for an ideal program, but health advocates said the state spending was a good start.
â€œSince the state has never spent state dollars on tobacco control at all, weâ€™re glad to have anything at all. It will be a good first stab at doing a comprehensive program,â€ Sara Cox, tobacco control coordinator for the Health Action Council, said.
The council was created by the North Carolina chapters of the American Lung Association and the American Cancer Society.
â€œWeâ€™re really excited about having this money,â€ she said.
Members of the state Health and Wellness Trust Fund Commission met for 40 minutes to approve the expenditure of $6.2 million a year. The commission accepted a recommendation made last month by a state task force on smoking and health.
â€œWith this commitment of funds, North Carolina is taking a major step in reducing the rate of teen smoking,â€ Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue, commission chairwoman, said.
â€œThe social and health care consequences of teen smoking (are) of great concern. We must do what we can to prevent teens from smoking and help them quit if they have already begun.â€
Perdue and members of the commission held a forum in Greenville on April 15 seeking input on the spending from area teens. It was one of four forums held in the state.
Local participants told the panel that programs involving teen anti-smoking advocates and cancer survivors would work best.
Nearly half of the 50 people attending the forum were members of high school anti-smoking programs in Greenville, Wilmington and Edenton.
The program they discussed will run three years if a recent $30 million payment is returned from a state escrow fund where it was placed by the governor in case itâ€™s needed to balance the budget. If not, the program will be funded for two years, commission spokesman Derek Chernow said.
Teen smoking in North Carolina occurs at a higher rate than the national average, Perdue said. Fifteen percent of the stateâ€™s children in grades six through eight smoke cigarettes, compared with 9.2 percent nationwide.
North Carolina already has laws that prohibit sale of tobacco to minors.
The new program will develop new school and community programs, fund organizations to talk about health effects of tobacco in minority populations, boost state enforcement of tobacco sales to minors, measure results of the program and pay for advertising aimed at teens.
This is the second major program funded by the commission. In December, the commission voted to spend $35 million a year for three years to provide prescription drug insurance coverage for senior citizens.
The fund has a balance of $83.2 million available for disbursement and a reserve of $17.8 million
Established by the Legislature, the commission receives 25 percent of the stateâ€™s share of the national tobacco settlement reached in 1998. The health fund was set to receive about $1.15 billion of the 4.6 billion allocated over 25 years for North Carolina.
Another 25 percent goes to the Tobacco Trust Fund Commission, which spends on projects to help tobacco farmers adjust to changes in the industry. Half of the payments go directly to the Golden LEAF Foundation, which is charged with spending to help economic development in tobacco-dependent communities.
Money for the three funds comes from the stateâ€™s share of the settlement with cigarette companies after lawsuits were filed by attorneys general over unreimbursed health care costs.