Wisconsin Programs Recognized, Politicians Criticized at National Conference
MADISON, Wis., Nov. 25 /PRNewswire/ -- As the National Conference on Tobacco Or Health concluded Friday in San Francisco, Wisconsin came away with both praise and criticism.
The praise was directed at Wisconsin's comprehensive effort to prevent and reduce tobacco use. Wisconsin was invited to give 30 presentations on its youth prevention, media, local coalition, and cessation efforts. In less than two years, Wisconsin has realized unprecedented success including:
reducing tobacco use from 36% (2000) to 27% (2002) among high school students,
receiving over 24,000 calls to the Wisconsin Tobacco Quit Line,
reducing tobacco use by 29% on the UW Oshkosh campus, and
helping pregnant smokers quit, saving health care dollars and improving birth outcomes.
"Massachusetts was able to save $3 in health care costs for every $1 they spent on their prevention and cessation efforts. We're on our way to realizing those outcomes if we maintain our commitment to save lives through tobacco control," said David Gundersen, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Tobacco Control Board. "We know what works. We know how to save lives and health care costs. We're confident the Governor-elect and new Legislature will do the right thing and keep kids from starting and help smokers quit," he added.
However, at the national conference, Wisconsin was repeatedly singled out as a leading state in selling off its settlement to plug its budget deficit. In addition, while other states have used portions of their settlements for deficit reductions, most states also set aside dollars for tobacco prevention and treatment programs. Wisconsin's future is not quite so certain.
According to Gundersen, the real losers in the equation are smokers. "Smokers are the ones who are dying. They are the ones who are paying the bill for the tobacco industry through higher prices. They are the ones who are paying the taxes to plug deficit holes. If we continue to raise taxes, but don't commit to helping those who want to quit through a comprehensive tobacco prevention and cessation program, we are punishing smokers."
The winners? "The only winners in any of this are the tobacco companies. They've got a great deal. They legally sell an addictive and unregulated product, kill hundreds of thousands of people without consequence, and make hundreds of millions in profits. They then pass the health care costs on to smokers, taxpayers, and insurers, who in turn pass it on to premium payers," Gundersen noted. "Until we make a commitment to put the health of our citizens in front of the well-being of tobacco companies, we'll continue to lose 7,300 Wisconsinites and $1.6 billion in health care costs to smoking every year."