Our View: Tracking tobacco money would offer more transparency to anti-smoking efforts
As part of a 1998 settlement of lawsuits filed against major tobacco companies, states across the country stand to receive an estimated $246 billion over the course of the first 25 years of the agreement to pay for health care costs due to smoking.
But according to a recent report by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, despite the funds received so far, “states continue to shortchange tobacco prevention and cessation programs that are proven to save lives and money.”
“In the current budget year,” the report states, “Fiscal Year 2015, the states will collect $25.6 billion from the settlement and taxes. But they will spend only 1.9 percent of it — $490.4 million — on programs to prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit.”
California, which ranked 26th in terms of meeting funding recommendations for tobacco prevention programs by the Center for Disease Control, reportedly will spend $58.9 million, or 16.9 percent of the $347.9 million the CDC recommends the Golden State to spend. The CDC recommendation is that states reinvest 14 percent of total tobacco funding received into anti-smoking programs, which California reportedly will receive $1.559 billion in FY2015.
California was given a grade of “F” for tobacco prevention efforts and a “D” for its access to cessation services, according to the American Lung Association’s “State of Tobacco Control 2015” report, despite the funding the state receives for these very efforts.
As The Union reported last month, Nevada County has received nearly $900,000 annually from the Tobacco Master Settlement — or $15.25 million through the first 16 years of the settlement — but it’s not clear how much of that money has been directed toward tobacco prevention programs.
Instead of using the Tobacco Master Settlement money directly, Nevada County pulls out about $1.1 million annually from the general fund to finance programs in Nevada County’s Health and Human Services Agency. HHSA then leverages that $1.1 million in general fund money to qualify for a slew of state and federal grant programs that finance a wide range of counseling and public assistance services — many of which have a tobacco or substance abuse component, according to interim HHSA Director Michael Heggarty.
On a positive note, as Heggarty mentioned, the adult smoking rate in Nevada County has been steadily decreasing — from 20.9 percent in 2003 to 14.1 percent in 2011-12. However, the health-related costs due to smoking not only remain, but are potentially poised to grow in years ahead.
According to a 2014 Surgeon General’s report, 45 million Americans smoke. The total medical costs per year of smoking equals $130 billion per year, which amounts to about $2,890 per smoker annually. Productivity losses are estimated to be greater than medical care. Using those numbers and aligning Nevada County’s population (2013 est.) of 98,200, and the rate of smoking of about 12 percent, there are an estimated 11,760 smokers in Nevada County — for an estimated $34 million annually in health care costs, at $2,890 per smoker.
And, the Surgeon General reported, nearly half a million Americans die prematurely from smoking each year. According to the American Lung Association, there were 36,684 smoking attributable deaths in California last year with an estimated economic cost of $18.1 billion to the state due to smoking.
According to officials, Nevada County’s policy decision to deposit the Tobacco Master Settlement money in the general fund without restrictions — and to then allocate money elsewhere for tobacco prevention and education — was made in 2000, spurred by the fact that there were no state guidelines or mandates for how the money should be used. County officials have said they would welcome feedback from residents on the issue.
We encourage such a conversation. Although there remains no requirement for how the master settlement funding is used, nor a mandate on tracking how it has been spent, following the money trail would allow the public to specifically know where the dollars were spent and at what level Nevada County is meeting the anti-tobacco funding recommendations by the CDC.
As the old saying goes, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” And spending this money wisely, or not, will have a direct impact on both our community’s health and its economy.
Our View represents the opinions of The Union editorial board, which is composed of members of The Union staff, as well as informed members of the community.
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