RI Ranks 38th in Nation for Anti-Tobacco Funding

Monday, November 22, 2010


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Rhode Island is at the bottom of the pack when it comes to state funding for anti-tobacco programs, especially those geared towards kids, according to a national report released by a coalition of public health groups.

In fiscal year 2011, the state government will spend $735,095 on tobacco prevention and smoking cessation programs, according to the report. That is a small percentage of the $15.2 million that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends and just .4 percent of the $184 million the state will collect in tobacco-generated revenues, such as the cigarette tax.

“While Rhode Island has taken several critical steps to reduce tobacco use, it can achieve even greater gains by increasing funding for programs to prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit. Right now, it is one of the most disappointing states in funding such programs,” said Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, one of the groups behind the report.

Tobacco companies out-spend the state 48 to 1

Tobacco companies spend $35.1 million a year to market their products in Rhode Island—that’s 48 times what the state is spending to counter their message, according to the report, titled “A Broken Promise to Our Children: The 1998 State Tobacco Settlement 12 Years Later.” (Click here to read the report and learn about the other sponsors. Click here to see how Rhode Island compares to other states.)

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So is what Rhode Island spends enough? “Absolutely not,” responded Joseph McNamara, chairman of the House Committee on Health, Education, and Welfare. In the last legislative session, he sponsored a bill that he says would have boosted funding—but it never came to a vote.

The head of Providence Mayor David Cicilline’s Substance Abuse Prevention Council agreed. “We could really make a difference on our programs and prevention if we did spend more,” said Caitlin Thomas Henkel, the staff director for the council.

The good news: smoking rates on the decline

Providence and the state did just receive a big boost to their efforts: a $3.3 million federal stimulus grant for anti-smoking programs. The grant will be shared by the city and the Rhode Island Department of Health.

Annemarie Beardsworth, the spokeswoman for the Department of Health, suggested that more important than the number of dollars spent on anti-smoking are the numbers showing a decline in smoking rates. A recent CDC survey showed that in 2009 just 17.4 percent of adults were smokers, compared with 22 percent ten years earlier. Among children and teens aged 12 to 17 years, the rate was 11.3 percent.

“I think that shows we’re doing a good job with how we’re allocating the money,” Beardsworth told GoLocalProv. “It’s what we do with these funds that’s important.”

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Addicted kids ‘fall into a gap’

McNamara credited the cigarette tax—the second highest in the country—with cutting down youth smoking rates. “The high cost of tobacco products has had a major influence in the decrease in young people utilizing these products,” McNamara said. “I think it’s been more effective than our prevention program.”

Despite the declines, 1,400 kids will become regular smokers in 2010. Each year, tobacco use is responsible for 1,600 deaths and $506 million in health care bills in Rhode Island, according to the report on tobacco funding.

McNamara said he plans to re-introduce legislation to increase funding for anti-tobacco programs. As an administrator for the Pawtucket Alternative Learning Program, he says he’s seen firsthand the struggles that youth have with smoking. Despite the decline in youth smoking rates, he says those that are still smokers don’t have many of the resources that adults have to help them quit, such as nicotine gum and other medication. “It’s such an addictive product … students who become addicted fall into a gap,” he said.

In Rhode Island, 13.3 percent of high school students smoke, and 1,400 more kids become regular smokers every year. Each year, tobacco claims 1,600 lives and costs the state $506 million in health care bills.

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What happened to the tobacco settlement money?

One key question is what happened to all the money that Rhode Island won from the 1998 tobacco settlement.

In 2002, the state decided to sell (the technical term is “securitize”) its rights to its $1.19 billion share of the tobacco settlement for a one-time lump sum of $600 million. The money was used to cover budget deficits, capital costs, and operating expenses from fiscal years to 2002 to 2004, according to the tobacco funding report.

“I questioned the decision when it was made,” McNamara told GoLocalProv. “The rationale behind it was that we were using the funds to pay off debt that was at a much higher rate.”

Information in charts provided by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.


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