Health advocates urge greater effort to reduce tobacco use
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – With tobacco companies spending more than $120 million to market their products in West Virginia — nearly 25 times what the state spends on tobacco prevention programs — is it surprising that West Virginia has the highest smoking rates in the United States?
At least not according to the Coalition for a Tobacco-Free West Virginia, where tobacco annually claims 4,300 lives and costs the state $1 billion in health care bills. Reports show each year 2,200 additional West Virginia kids become smokers.
“… It is critical that the state raise its tobacco tax and increase funding for tobacco prevention programs,” said Matthew L. Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, explaining that evidence shows tobacco prevention and cessation programs work to reduce smoking, save lives and save money.
West Virginia will collect $170.1 million in revenue this year from the 1998 tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes but will spend only 2.9 percent of the money on tobacco prevention programs. The state spends only $4.9 million per year on tobacco prevention and cessation programs, which is 17.8 percent of the $27.4 million recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The state ranks 22nd in the country in funding the programs that prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit, according to a national report “Broken Promises to Our Children: A State-by-State Look at the 1998 State Tobacco Settlement 16 Years Later.”
Coalition officials say significantly increasing the tax on tobacco products is proven to be a most effective strategy to prevent kids from starting and helping smokers quit.
To reduce tobacco use and its health and financial toll in West Virginia, health advocates are calling on state leaders to increase the state cigarette tax by $1.50 per pack, along with a similar increase to the tax on other tobacco products.
“These strategies are proven to reduce tobacco use and its terrible toll in health, lives and dollars. Until West Virginia leaders act, the state’s kids and taxpayers will continue to pay a high price” stated Cinny Kittle, director of the Coalition for a Tobacco-Free West Virginia. “Because we have such high rates of tobacco use, including a rate of smoking among pregnant women that is three times the national average, we must apply these proven strategies in our state.”
Coalition officials said if West Virginia reduced its high school smoking rate from the current 19.6 percent to 7.5 percent — a level Florida has achieved — it would prevent 68,520 kids from becoming adult smokers, saving 24,070 lives and $1.2 billion in future health care costs.
“Broken Promises to Our Children …” was released by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, American Heart Association, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Lung Association, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights.
For the full report and state-specific information go to www.tobaccofreekids.org/statereport. More information about the Coalition for a Tobacco-Free West Virginia can be found at www.tobacco-free-wv.com