Progress continues in tobacco battle
By the end of next June, Maine will have spent just over $32 million to fund its campaign to reduce and prevent tobacco use in the state.
That money is Maine's share of the national tobacco settlement, a share that could amount to $1.4 billion over 25 years.
Compared to the typical family budget, that is a considerable sum of money, but Dr. Dora Ann Mills, the state's Bureau of Health director, said that settlement money is small change compared to the riches the tobacco industry lavishes on advertising.
Last year alone, Mills said the tobacco industry spent $8 billion to promote its products.
"It is astonishing," she said. "We see tobacco through a smoke screen and the smoke screen is the $8 billion the tobacco industry spends on marketing."
Still, despite the David versus Goliath nature of the battle, Mills said Maine already has made progress in the fight.
"Even the small investment we are making has shown to be successful," she said. "So even though we could use a lot more money, it's encouraging to see the progress that we have made already."
Since 1997 â€” when the state raised the cigarette tax from 37 to 74 cents per pack â€” cigarette sales have declined by 16 percent.
Mills, moreover, said studies have shown a 27 percent decline in youth smoking (children 14-18) in Maine between 1997 and 1999.
Next week the state will unveil a media campaign against tobacco use developed by Maine children â€”part of a larger media initiative with the same goal. That campaign is part of a four-pronged program to combat smoking.
The state already has created laws that put far greater restrictions on smoking in public places and has put more bite into its effort to prevent tobacco sales to those 18 and under. Mills said the state also will unveil a smoking-cessation plan in September.
But the fourth and possibly most influential component of the initiative is the community-intervention aspect. In an effort to more strategically target health issues, the state formed 30 Campaign for a Healthy Maine sites, including one in the Greater Waterville area headed by United Way of Mid-Maine.
Terry Bourassa is the site's project director. Bourassa said the objective is to form a coalition of nonprofit agencies, schools, health-care providers, business people and other community members dedicated to the cause.
The coalitions also work to encourage better nutrition and greater physical activity, Bourassa said.
Lauren Walsh, executive director of the social agency Families First, said organization is critical to the effort to combat tobacco use, especially if campaign organizers have less money to work with in the future.
Once a structure is in place, she said, much can be done without funding.