Budget Cuts Force States To Slash Funding For Their Effective Anti-Smoking Programs

States have spent less money on anti-tobacco programs over the past two years than at any point since 1998, when a large settlement with the tobacco industry awarded states billions of dollars to put toward their public health campaigns, a new report from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids finds.

The report notes that even though states expect to collect a record $25.7 billion from tobacco taxes and settlement money in this fiscal year, they’re planning to spend less than 2 percent of those funds on anti-smoking campaigns and tobacco prevention programs. And the authors told the New York Times that the lack of funding for public health resources is especially problematic now that tobacco has become divided along economic lines, and is now imposing a serious strain on low-income smokers who can end up spending up to a quarter of their income on cigarettes:

“Smoking used to be the rich man’s habit,” said Danny McGoldrick, the vice president for research at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, “and now it’s decidedly a poor person’s behavior.”

Aggressive antismoking programs are the main tools that cities and states have to reach the demographic groups in which smoking rates are the highest, making money to finance them even more critical, Mr. McGoldrick said.

The decline in spending comes amid growing certainty among public health officials that antismoking programs, like help lines and counseling, actually work. California went from having a smoking rate above the national average 20 years ago to having the second-lowest rate in the country after modest but consistent spending on programs that help people quit and prevent children from starting, Dr. McAfee said.

Even aside from the positive public health implications, investing in tobacco prevention is also incredibly cost-effective for states. One study estimated that states’ returns on their anti-smoking programs can be as high as $50 saved for every $1 spent. That study projected an annual $200 billion loss from preventable health problems caused by tobacco — mostly thanks to decreased workplace productivity and increased health care costs — so states like California that are investing in strong anti-tobacco programming have significantly lowered their health care expenditures, and those savings far surpass the cost of the programs themselves.

Nevertheless, recent budget cuts have forced many effective tobacco programs to contract or even cease altogether. North Carolina eliminated funding for its program this year, and Ohio didn’t allocate any money for what used to be a successful program in the state in the past. Anti-tobacco programs have been cut by more than 90 percent in Washington State, by more than 75 percent in Maryland, and by more than half in Maine, Massachusetts, New York and Wisconsin.