Md. lags in funds to halt smoking

Report urges larger anti-tobacco effort

December 26, 2007|By Tyeesha Dixon | Tyeesha Dixon,Sun reporter

Maryland currently spends about 60 percent of the minimum recommended by the federal government on tobacco prevention programs - less than a tenth of what tobacco companies spend on marketing in the state, according to a new analysis by anti-smoking groups.

Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest the state spend $30.3 million on tobacco prevention, Maryland spends $18.4 million, according to the report from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, American Heart Association, American Lung Association and American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. Tobacco companies spend more than $192 million a year on marketing here, according to the report.

Only three states - Maine, Delaware and Colorado - meet or exceed the CDC's minimum recommended funding for tobacco prevention programs. Those levels vary from state to state. Maine, which ranks the highest, spends more than 150 percent of the CDC's recommended minimum. Connecticut provided no funding this year.

Maryland is one of the 20 states that fund tobacco prevention programs at half or more of the minimum level recommended by the CDC.

In Maryland, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, 16.5 percent of high school students smoke, about 7,700 kids start smoking each year, and tobacco use kills 6,800 people each year.

Although the state has made "tremendous progress" in tobacco prevention efforts, advocates hope Maryland will increase its funding for anti-smoking programs, said Peter Fisher, vice president for state issues for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

"They've done great work," Fisher said. "The legislature and the governor should be congratulated.

"Now [the state] can take the third and final step by bringing its statewide tobacco prevention at least up to the CDC minimum."

This year, the General Assembly passed a law requiring that all restaurants and bars in the state be smoke-free starting in February. During last month's special session, it also increased the state cigarette tax by $1 per pack, starting Jan. 1.

Kathleen Dachille, an advocate for tobacco regulation, said given current funding, state tobacco programs are effective, but funding must be increased to create more prevention and cessation programs.

"We'd love to see the funding increase," said Dachille, director of the Legal Resource Center for Tobacco Regulation, Litigation and Advocacy at the University of Maryland School of Law. "We're really missing some of the media dollars that we need to have the impact we need."

Dachille said more anti-smoking media campaigns are necessary to keep children from starting smoking and to help adults kick the habit.

"I think we could be much more aggressive to people who really want to quit, which is the majority of adult smokers," she said. "We have to counter-market what the tobacco companies have used - and that's really where the dollars have been lacking."

Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens' Health Initiative, said the state has implemented effective community programs, but without a statewide media campaign will be unable to compete with the tobacco companies' advertisements.

In the United States, 23 percent of high school students are cigarette smokers, according to the CDC, and every day, about 4,000 young people age 12 to 17 start smoking cigarettes - about 1,140 of whom become daily cigarette smokers.

In the report, Maryland ranked 19th in the nation in program funding. Last year, the state ranked 15th. Annually, smoking-related health care bills in Maryland total nearly $2 million, according to the report.

The report also estimates that in fiscal 2008, the state will collect more than $540 million from tobacco settlements and taxes.

tyeesha.dixon@baltsun.com

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