Cooper: Why no anti-tobacco funds?

Cooper: Why no anti-tobacco funds?

January 9th, 2019 by Clint Cooper in Opinion Free Press

Cartons of Marlboro cigarettes are shown on the shelves at a retail outlet in Burlington, North Carolina.

Photo by Gerry Broome

Since Tennessee received $422 million in revenue in 2018 from the 1998 tobacco Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) and from tobacco taxes, we believe it still makes sense for the state to support tobacco control efforts in each county.

However, no money was requested for the Tennessee Department of Health's Tobacco Use Prevention and Control Program in 95 counties for fiscal 2019.

It's unclear why the program was zeroed out — from $6.2 million in fiscal 2018 — except a vague explanation that priorities are being re-examined and that Gov.-elect Bill Lee's administration deserves to have a hand in how the money is spent.

The Department of Health program received $20 million for tobacco control efforts from fiscal 2014 to fiscal 2018, and the state has received $3 billion in settlement funds from tobacco companies since 1998. The funds are to continue, according to settlement terms, "in perpetuity."

Although smoking rates for adults have dramatically dropped around the country and in Tennessee over the last 50 years, 22.1 percent of adults in the state — as of 2016 — smoke. Nationally, 17.1 percent of adults smoke.

However, and frighteningly, the rates for tobacco use by high school students are higher.

Where 3.2 percent of adults in the state used e-cigarettes in 2015, 11.5 percent of high school students did so in 2017. Where 2.8 percent of adults used smokeless tobacco in 2015, 7.3 percent of high school students did so in 2017. And where 2.2 percent of adults smoked cigars in 2015, 9.6 percent of high school students did so in 2017.

Much of the tobacco prevention program money is spent on youth, the idea being that they should not start smoking but if they start they should stop before their habit extends to their adult years.

The outreach to prevent youth from starting to smoke is one of three primary efforts of the state's Tobacco Use Prevention and Control Program. The two others are preventing smoking during pregnancy and reducing the exposure of children to second-hand smoke.

Evidence says the efforts pay off.

Smoking among eighth graders fell from 11.3 percent in 2011 to 6.1 percent in 2016, and pregnancy smoking fell from 15 percent in 2013 to 14 percent in 2015.

As of now, the state Tobacco Use Prevention and Control Program is soldiering on through a one-time additional allocation of $5 million in 2018 and by postponing or eliminating some of the projects originally planned for 2019.

Meanwhile, tobacco companies will spend $292.1 million annually to market their products in the Volunteer State.

However, officials say two staff positions at the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department and its TNSTRONG youth smoking prevention program are at risk.

It's still 10 days until Gov-elect Lee is inaugurated, but the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Health Council isn't waiting. It is drafting letters to him, to the incoming commissioner of health and to state legislators urging them to re-direct a portion of the settlement money back into anti-smoking programs.

Although we feel strongly the messages about smoking should continue to resonate with some of the settlement money, we know one thing: The message remains the same.

It's unhealthy to smoke. It's unhealthy for young people, it's unhealthy for pregnant women, it's unhealthy to be around second-hand smoke. And electronic cigarettes are nearly as bad.

The literature and the research have been around for decades. And newer information only supports the old.

What the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department tells clients won't change, and youth still are likely to see numerous messages daily by the American Cancer Society, the American Lung Association, teen health groups, pregnancy health organizations and many other nonprofit groups urging them not to start smoking and to quit if they have started.

So if the program had to run on fumes while things are re-prioritized under the Lee administration, it could. And, after all, priorities, personnel, findings and needs change in government or quasi-government programs with limited or temporary funding. Like it or not, it's the way bureaucracies are.

Nevertheless, the 1998 tobacco MSA directed the tobacco companies to pay the 46 states in the lawsuit money for smoking-related health care costs and public health programs, though that designation was not legally constrained. So, in many states, the money goes directly into the general funds and is used for a variety of things other than health care. Indeed, only a handful of states fund tobacco-related programs at levels recommended by the Centers for Disease Control.

With that in mind, we think the Volunteer State — at the very least — should return to funding its Tobacco Use Prevention and Control Program at previous levels. A transparent accounting of how the MSA money is used would be appreciated, too. Indeed, if the money is being received "in perpetuity," shouldn't the money to combat smoking's health care costs be funded for the same time?

Getting Started/Comments Policy

Getting started

  1. 1. If you frequently comment on news websites then you may already have a Disqus account. If so, click the "Login" button at the top right of the comment widget and choose whether you'd rather log in with Facebook, Twitter, Google, or a Disqus account.
  2. 2. If you've forgotten your password, Disqus will email you a link that will allow you to create a new one. Easy!
  3. 3. If you're not a member yet, Disqus will go ahead and register you. It's seamless and takes about 10 seconds.
  4. 4. To register, either go through the login process or just click in the box that says "join the discussion," type your comment, and either choose a social media platform to log you in or create a Disqus account with your email address.
  5. 5. If you use Twitter, Facebook or Google to log in, you will need to stay logged into that platform in order to comment. If you create a Disqus account instead, you'll need to remember your Disqus password. Either way, you can change your display name if you'd rather not show off your real name.
  6. 6. Don't be a huge jerk or do anything illegal, and you'll be fine.

Chattanooga Times Free Press Comments Policy

The Chattanooga Times Free Press web sites include interactive areas in which users can express opinions and share ideas and information. We cannot and do not monitor all of the material submitted to the website. Additionally, we do not control, and are not responsible for, content submitted by users. By using the web sites, you may be exposed to content that you may find offensive, indecent, inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise objectionable. You agree that you must evaluate, and bear all risks associated with, the use of the Times Free Press web sites and any content on the Times Free Press web sites, including, but not limited to, whether you should rely on such content. Notwithstanding the foregoing, you acknowledge that we shall have the right (but not the obligation) to review any content that you have submitted to the Times Free Press, and to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content that we determine, in our sole discretion, (a) does not comply with the terms and conditions of this agreement; (b) might violate any law, infringe upon the rights of third parties, or subject us to liability for any reason; or (c) might adversely affect our public image, reputation or goodwill. Moreover, we reserve the right to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content at any time, for the reasons set forth above, for any other reason, or for no reason. If you believe that any content on any of the Times Free Press websites infringes upon any copyrights that you own, please contact us pursuant to the procedures outlined in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (Title 17 U.S.C. § 512) at the following address:

Copyright Agent
The Chattanooga Times Free Press
400 East 11th Street
Chattanooga, TN 37403
Phone: 423-757-6315
Email: webeditor@timesfreepress.com


Loading...