Tennessee ranks 34th nationally in funding for smoking prevention and cessation programs, according to a new report issued by a collection of leading public health organizations.
The state spends a little more than $6 million annually to prevent people from picking up the habit and convincing current smokers to drop it, less than 10 percent of the amount recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The report was released by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Heart Association and the American Lung Association, among others, all of which argued that Tennessee can be doing more to counter the habit that is the nation's leading cause of preventable death.
"By failing to adequately fund tobacco prevention and cessation programs, Tennessee is putting kids' health at risk and costing taxpayers more in tobacco-related health care costs," Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, wrote in a news release.
"We can win the fight against tobacco and make the next generation tobacco-free, but Tennessee needs to do its part to help achieve these goals. As a first step, the state should allow local communities to pass stronger smoke-free laws that protect their residents from harmful secondhand smoke."
State funding also pales in comparison to the whopping $428.7 million generated in total revenue from tobacco products in Tennessee, as well as the $273 million the industry spent in marketing here, as noted in the report. The ratio of money spent on marketing versus money spent on prevention is nearly 44 to 1.
Overall, national smoking numbers have decreased significantly over the last several decades — only 15.1 percent of adults and 8 percent of high school students now smoke — but tobacco use still kills more than 480,000 Americans every year.
In Tennessee, 22 percent of adults smoke, as do 11.5 percent of high schoolers, a decrease from 21.6 percent of youth in 2011. More than 11,000 Tennesseans die as a result of smoking-related illnesses every year.
"Tobacco continues to be the leading preventable cause of death in Tennessee, and the Department of Health is committed to using any available funding to prevent youth from starting the habit and to help anyone quit," Elizabeth Hart, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Health, wrote in an emailed statement.
"As the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids report indicates, the state and federal funding received is used for tobacco prevention and cessation programs. These funds support the TNStrong Youth Movement ("Tennessee Stop Tobacco and Revolutionize Our New Generation") which has reached youth in over 271 teams," she wrote.
"Funds also have supported an average of 2,000 calls per month to the Tennessee Tobacco Quitline 1-800-QuitNOW and the development of a diaper voucher incentive program, Baby and Me Tobacco Free, available in county health departments to help pregnant women quit smoking."
For those who are trying to quit smoking, the state's "Quitline" offers support from trained counselors who can provide individualized advice on how to do so. Anyone interested can call 800-784-8669.
Contact staff writer Emmett Gienapp at egienapp@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6731. Follow him on Twitter @emmettgienapp.