Louisiana spends little on smoking cessation programs
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) -- With a $4 billion settlement from the tobacco industry to satisfy a lawsuit claiming public health damage from smoking, Louisiana is only spending peanuts on programs to curb the addiction, the Senate Finance Committee learned.
Sen. Jay Dardenne, chairman of the committee, noted at a committee hearing on Memorial Day that the health agency's smoking cessation program was taking a small cut.
The committee is trying to go through the proposed $15 billion operating budget, page by page and agency by agency.
Dardenne was told by health officials that the Legislature gives them $500,000 a year.
The state gets annual payments from the industry over a 25-year period. The latest payment is about $160 million.
Sen. Tom Schedler, R-Slidell, said he thought there were guidelines in the tobacco settlement that called for some of the money to be spent on smoking cessation programs.
"The spirit of the agreement was that we should spend more than $500,000," said Senate fiscal analyst Bob Keaton.
The health agency uses what money it can find to go into schools, telling students the dangers of smoking and also training teachers to give lectures on the subject.
About 25 percent of the state's youths use tobacco, said Liz Sumrall, of the office of public health.
Dardenne said the state should be spending more money.
"We've just failed in this regard," said Sen. C.D. Jones, D-Monroe.
Several members of the committee are expected to offer changes in the budget to increase cessation program spending.
The committee will spend the early part of the week on looking at the House-passed budget before offering any changes.