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States spend tobacco money on all the wrong things



Published: Tue, August 14, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



States spend tobacco money on all the wrong things

By spending billions of the dollars they received from a massive settlement with the tobacco industry on a wide array of programs unrelated to the prevention of smoking, many states will find themselves facing another big bill in the future when all the people who were not dissuaded from smoking start developing the expensive diseases that government programs will have to treat.

The tobacco money was never intended as a windfall for state treasuries but instead to fight the spread of smoking and prevent tobacco addiction -- especially among the young.

It is estimated that nationwide some 3,000 kids start smoking every day. And while tobacco manufacturers deny that any of their $6.5 billion marketing budget is directed toward kids, the market for tobacco products has to be replenished from somewhere as more than 400,000 Americans die annually from smoking-related diseases.

In fact, the American Lung Association estimates that half of all regular smokers will die of smoking-related diseases. Considering that Ohio has the third highest smoking rate in the nation -- 27.6 percent of adults smoke -- that means millions of Ohioans will die from preventable diseases over the next 10 years.

Moral treason: Mississippi Attorney General Michael Moore who led the battle against the tobacco industry called the action of the states moral treason. He said, & quot;We got all this money, then legislatures and governors who were not even in this fight act like the money fell out of heaven and spend it on the political whim of the day. & quot;

But unlike states such as Tennessee which will use its $557 million to meet budget shortfalls in 2002 or North Dakota which is using 45 percent of its tobacco funds to pay for debt service on bonds financing a water allocation and flood project, Ohio at least has earmarked $1.3 billion for smoking cessation and prevention over the next 12 years.

The Buckeye State just hasn't spent any of the millions it has received -- yet.

Under the bill passed by the General Assembly 11 & Uacute;2 years ago, a number of foundations were to be established to allocate the money received from the tobacco settlement. The governor's appointments to the Tobacco Use Prevention and Cessation Foundation weren't made until December, 2000, and the group didn't hold its first meeting until January of this year.

Things take time: In the intervening time, the foundation has developed a strategic plan and is in the process of hiring an executive director. We understand that members of a volunteer board have only a limited amount of time to devote to their voluntary efforts. But in the interim, hundreds of Ohio youngsters are getting hooked on tobacco every week.

We understand that a busy governor needs time to make his appointments and that it takes time to collect baseline data, to identify funding priorities and to conduct a national search for an outstanding director. But with every day that passes, more children are succumbing to the wiles of a merciless industry -- which has no doubts it will more than make back the money paid to the states.

We urge the tobacco use prevention foundation to expedite its agenda, so that aggressive programs to prevent or stop smoking can be implemented.




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