Report: Tennessee does little to prevent smoking

Report: Tennessee does little to prevent smoking

December 26th, 2016 by Steve Johnson in Local Regional News

POLL: Does anyone in your family smoke?

Tennessee spends less money trying to convince people to quit smoking than almost any other state, according to a recent report.

The state is spending $1.1 million this year on smoking-prevention programs, which ranks 45th of all states, according to the report titled "Broken Promises to Our Children: A State-by-State Look at the 1998 State Tobacco Settlement 18 Years Later."

Tennessee should collect about $418.3 million in revenue this year from the settlement plus taxes on tobacco products. In 1998, the five largest U.S. tobacco companies agreed to make an annual payment to state governments to help them cover the costs of care for people with smoking-related illnesses under the Medicaid program. In exchange, the states agreed to bar private lawsuits against the tobacco companies for those damages.

Across the U.S., states will collect $26.6 billion in 2016 from the settlement and tobacco taxes, but less than 2 percent of that will go for tobacco prevention programs, according to the report. In Tennessee, the figure is less than 1 percent.

"Tennessee is putting children's health at risk and costing taxpayers money by refusing to fund tobacco prevention programs that save lives and health care dollars," said Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, one of the report's sponsors.

According to the report, tobacco use claims 11,400 Tennessee lives and costs the state more than $2.6 billion in medical payments every year.

Alabama ranked 43rd in the report, while Georgia was 44th.

There has been progress in reducing the number of people who smoke. The 2015 figures are 15.1 percent of adults and 10.8 percent of high school students, the report said, down from 21 percent for adults and 19.5 percent for high school students in 2009.

But the amount of money spent by tobacco companies to promote smoking dwarfs that spent by the state in opposing it. According to the report, more than $275 million is spent each year in Tennessee to sell tobacco products, more than 250 times what the state spends to point out the dangers of smoking.

In Hamilton County, the health department has received a three-year, $365,000 annual grant from the state to pay for anti-smoking programs. That has allowed the health department to add three more staffers to the one who previously worked on anti-smoking efforts.

That grant expires next year, however, although health department officials hope it will be renewed, according to Paula Collier, the health department's tobacco prevention coordinator.

Much of the county's effort has focused on barring smoking from schools, workplaces and public spaces, while allowing people to smoke in private, if they choose to do so, health officials said.

The county also has three priorities: convincing women not to smoke when they are pregnant, reducing second- and third-hand smoke exposure to infants and children, and reducing smoking among teens and youth, Collier said.

The health department's "Baby & Me — Tobacco Free" program provides counseling to moms before their babies are born and then offers them free diapers for a year if they remain tobacco-free.

But the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids' Myers believes the state could do more if more money was allocated to anti-smoking measures.

"Because of the tremendous progress our country has made in reducing smoking, it is within our reach to win the fight against tobacco and make the next generation tobacco-free," he said. "Tennessee should be doing everything it can to protect kids from tobacco."

This report was released by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the American Lung Association, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights, and the Truth Initiative.

Contact staff writer Steve Johnson at 423-757-6673, sjohnson@timesfreepress.com, on Twitter @stevejohnsonTFP, and on Facebook, facebook.com/noogahealth.


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