Tobacco settlement money misses target in Lamar County
A portion of the tobacco settlement to compensate Texas and other states for indigent care related to smoking illness and disease was also supposed to fund education to prevent another generation from the hazards of smoking.
But in Lamar County, the first payment of tobacco money from the state had no strings attached and was used to start a fund for courthouse renovation. Subsequent installments will go to indigent care, even if medical expenses are related to nonsmoking illness.
The county presents a request annually for $700,000, the cost of indigent care for poor residents and jail inmates. The number of local people whose medical expenses are paid by public assistance is 90.
However, none of the local funds are set aside for education as the state has yet to require it, a criticism of a report entitled, ``Show Us The Money: An Update on the States Allocation of the Tobacco Settlement Dollars,'' prepared by national anti-smoking and public health organizations.
According to the report, Texas ranks 41st in the U.S. in setting aside tobacco money for youth anti-smoking programs.
Texas allocates only a fraction of the tobacco settlement to create the type of anti-smoking programs recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The report, sponsored by Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, American Heart Association, American Cancer Society and American Lung Association, states Texas spent $9.3 million on a small tobacco prevention pilot program that serves parts of East Texas.
``Texas has failed to keep the promise it made when the tobacco settlement was signed to use the funding to protect kids and save lives,'' said Matthew L. Myers, president of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids based in Washington, D.C.
The 1998 tobacco litigation ended in a settlement of $246 billion to be distributed to all states. But according to the report, most states have not funded enough money for effective, comprehensive tobacco prevention programs.
The CDC recommended states spend 20-25 percent of settlement money on tobacco prevention programs.
Texas will receive $326.3 million-$580 million each year from the tobacco settlement. Funds are allocated to every county based on indigent care expenses.
According to the report, a third of high school students in Texas smoke, and each year 85,000 kids become daily smokers while the state spends $4.8 billion on public and private health care expenditures related to tobacco use.
Comprehensive anti-smoking programs specifically for youth would include: ``an aggressive countermarketing campaign in print and radio and television; public education programs that include community-based programs, school-based programs and programs in the work place; smoking cessation techniques for health care professionals; money for stronger enforcement of youth access laws; and cessation clinics for both kids and adults,'' said Joel Spivak, media relations official with Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
Only six states have such programs which have shown dramatic reductions in the number of teen smokers.
Those states, random throughout the nation, are Florida, California, Massachusetts, Arizona, Mississippi and Oregon. But Texas and most other states have not implemented strong anti-smoking programs.
``People are still reluctant to believe these programs work,'' Spivak said.