Kentucky urged to spend more to stop smoking
Health groups declared yesterday that Kentucky spends far too little on smoking prevention, and then suggested what they said would be a good place to get the money to spend more: a bigger cigarette tax.
A new poll, they said, shows voters would support an increase in the cigarette tax large enough to spend more to reduce smoking and leave a lot left over for other government programs.
Coincidentally, they said, the boost in the cost of cigarettes would make them harder for teen-agers to buy and probably reduce the ranks of young smokers by 40,000.
The health groups said it was no coincidence that their twopronged message was released just as Kentucky and other state legislatures are revving up their 2002 sessions, all facing shortfalls in revenues.
Kentucky revenues are expected to come out about $500 million short.
''In this state, we could use a little more revenue,'' said Julie Brackett, director of advocacy for the American Heart Association Kentucky Office. A cigarette tax ''is a much-neglected source of revenue,'' she said.
Brackett also is a spokeswoman for Kentucky Health Investment for Kids (KHIK), a coalition that paid for a poll on the cigarette-tax question among 600 registered Kentucky voters in November and December.
A Washington, D.C., pollster found that 58 percent of Kentucky voters would support a 75-cent boost in the excise tax on a pack of cigarettes, the group said.
The results said even more people would support the tax if the proceeds were tied to specific spending -- 68 percent if the money went to Medicaid spending, and 66 percent if it went for prescription drug spending for seniors or health insurance for the working poor.
KHIK noted that Kentucky's tax on cigarettes has been 3 cents a pack since 1970, meaning the state trails only Virginia at the low end of the list of states' cigarette taxes. Meanwhile, it said, Kentucky middle school students have the highest smoking rate in the country, and its high school students have the fourthhighest.
The health group, which is made up of the heart, lung and cancer associations, among others, said $1 billion a year is spent in Kentucy on the health-care costs associated with smoking.
As the poll's results were being released, the Campaign for TobaccoFree Kids was reminding Kentuckians that its spending for smokingcessation programs lags behind the minimum annual figure recommended by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- by almost $20 million.
Kentucky is spending $5.5 million annually, and the CDC says population and smoking rates here suggest the state should spend between $25.1 million and $69.9 million a year.
Amy Barkley, regional advocacy representative for the campaign in Kentucky, said other states have found that tobacco-prevention spending pays off in savings from state costs for smoking-related illnesses.
''In Massachusetts, for every dollar they invest in tobacco prevention, they save $2,'' she said. ''It's a good investment for Kentucky.''
A study by the campaign found that Kentucky ranks 37th in the country in its use of tobacco-settlement money for smoking-cessation programs. States are to receive $246 billion from the major tobacco companies under 1998 lawsuit settlements.
Kentucky has received $247 million so far and is scheduled to receive $113 million to $148 million a year over 25 years.
At the urging of the health groups, among others, the Kentucky legislature earmarked half of the money coming in during the first two years for Kentucky farmers and rural communities, with the goal of weaning them away from dependence on tobacco as a crop.
''We want Kentucky to become less tobacco-dependent, because it will help people become more open to tobacco prevention,'' Barkley said.
In exchange for their support of the farmers, the health groups got unprecedented backing from the Burley Tobacco Growers Cooperative Association and other farm groups for spending $20 million for smoking cessation.
That intention didn't work out as well as the farmers' half, though. The legislature put half of the remaining money into early childhood development programs and half on public health initiatives.
The bottom line was that $10.5 million over two years, 2.5 percent of Kentucky's total settlement funds for the period, went to smoking prevention and substance-abuse programs.
But that was more than the Kentucky legislature had ever spent to cut smoking before.
''It was a very good step in the right direction,'' Barkley said. ''But here we are at the bottom of the list. We've got a maximum problem, and we're dedicating less than minimum resources.''