Official says allocation not enough: Anti-smoking programs getting small percentage of tobacco settlement money
MONTGOMERY -- Alabama has received $234.8 million so far from the national tobacco settlement but only $681,113, about the cost of two cigarettes per person in the state, has been spent on anti-smoking campaigns.
State Health Officer Dr. Don Williamson and anti-smoking groups said last week that's clearly not enough.
"It's a drop in the bucket,'' said Janet Windle, chairwoman of the Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Alabama. "For all the millions of dollars, this is all they allocated on this issue.''
Dr. Williamson's agency got $335,000 last year out of the Legislature from the national tobacco settlement worked out by states ostensibly to recover the cost of smoking-related illnesses by Medicaid recipients.
His agency is using $235,000 of the total to buy and distribute education programs for teachers.
Of the $335,000, $100,000 was allocated to the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board to hire agents and buy equipment to enforce the age ban on buying cigarettes. But the ABC Board got only $40,000 and is owed $60,000.
The ABC Board also got $125,728 in 2000 and $280,385 in 2001 from the tobacco settlement for anti-tobacco programs with much of that being spent on equipment including vehicles for tobacco and alcohol enforcement officers.
"That's not enough money to set up a program, so we use our money to supplement enforcement,'' said ABC Administrator Randall Smith.
Smith said the ABC Board is required to keep underage cigarette purchases to below 20 percent or jeopardize some $25 million in federal grants.
As a percentage of $234.8 million, $681,113 is just under three one-thousandths of 1 percent, or about 16 cents a year for each of the 4.2 million people in Alabama.
About one-quarter of Alabama's adults smoke and between 19 percent and 35 percent of children in high school smoke, according to various surveys.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 19,000 youngsters become smokers each year, and the CDC estimates that smoking costs Alabama $800 million a year.
Windle said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests Alabama should spend, based on its population, between $26.7 million and $72.2 million for prevention programs that include trying to eradicate not just cigarette smoking but also smokeless tobacco use.
That averages out to between $6.19 and $16.49 per person for a total tobacco program. (Six dollars and 19 cents is the cost of 3.5 packs of cigarettes at $1.75 a pack, and $16.49 is the cost of nine packs of smokes.)
The CDC's recommended total tobacco program includes programs to reduce tobacco use, to counter chronic diseases, programs in schools, law enforcement help, anti-tobacco messages at store counters and stop-smoking programs.
Alabama has received two fiscal years' worth of tobacco settlement money, $131.7 million in fiscal 2000 that ended Sept. 30, 2000, and $102.9 million in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30.
This fiscal year's payment of an estimated $115.1 million won't get to the state until January when an initial payment of $34.2 million is to be made. The second payment of $82.4 million is supposed to be made in April.
That means Williamson's agency won't get an estimated $5.8 million until January when another round of anti-tobacco programs can begin.
The $5.8 million is slightly more than Williamson's agency received this year when he had to spend 94 percent of that on the Children Health Insurance Program and 6 percent on tobacco prevention.
The law was changed last year, and the money was unearmarked and Williamson got the authority to determine how much money he'll spend to teach boys and girls the health dangers of nicotine and smoke.
"I would like to spend what I spent last year at the same level or more,'' said Williamson who hasn't determined whether the tobacco education budget will be more or less than $335,000.
The Department of Public Health is using its money to buy programs for teachers with students in the fourth through the ninth grades, said Barry Riddle, a senior education specialist for the Department of Public Health.
"This is all about decision-making skills, goal-setting skills and it gives information on behavior areas,'' Riddle said.
School systems that have begun using the program include Colbert, DeKalb, Franklin and Lauderdale counties Riddle said.
Most of the young smokers are white boys and to a lesser extent white girls. African-American boys and girls are the least likely to smoke, Riddle said.
"We have to reform the norm in that age group that smoking is normal,'' said Jan Byrne, education coordinator for the ABC Board.
If the tobacco companies remain in business and if people continue to buy cigarettes, Alabama may wind up with $3.2 billion of the $206 billion national tobacco settlement over 25 years.
A myriad of state agencies and programs get tobacco settlement money, including the Medicaid Agency, the Children First Trust Fund, which has received $107 million, and health insurance for children.