A report released last month points to just how short-sighted public officials can be when it comes to pursuing responsible health policies. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, states have spent only about 3 percent of the billions they’ve received in tobacco taxes and legal settlements over the last 10 years to fund programs to discourage tobacco use.
The absence of practical prevention programs have made it harder to reduce the number of deaths and diseases caused by tobacco use. Count Tennessee among the states that have squandered money that should have been earmarked to discourage cigarette smoking.
Tennessee legislators decided years ago to not put any of the funds from the multi-state tobacco settlement directly into anti-smoking programs. Instead, lawmakers used these dollars to prop up an anemic state budget that is desperately in need of tax reform.
Some, if not all, of those tobacco settlement funds should have been used on programs to help Tennesseeans kick the habit. It’s been shown that smokers who quit at age 35 can add an average of eight years to their lives. Those who kick the habit at age 55 gain about five years and even long-term smokers who quit at 65 gain three years. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the number of U.S. adults who smoke cigarettes continues to decline as more adults successfully quit smoking.
Even so, nearly 20 percent of Americans still smoke on a regular basis (some of them teenagers), and it could have deadly consequences for those around them. The Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids estimates that 1,000 Tennesseans die annually as a result of secondhand smoke.
Tennessee lawmakers can help put the brakes on rising health care costs in this state by putting more money into smoking- cessation programs.