States called on to restore anti-smoking funds

By Michael Gormley

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Feb. 25 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

Ohio took $230 million set aside for tobacco prevention, used it elsewhere despite a court challenge, and liquidated the state's Tobacco Use Prevention and Control Foundation. New Hampshire depended mostly on the 1998 federal tobacco settlement for its cessation programs, but much of it was diverted for other budget needs in recent years. Iowa cut its anti-smoking programs nearly in half and eliminated the job of its tobacco use prevention and control director last year.

Meanwhile, some Californians are pinning their hopes on a June ballot initiative to raise cigarette taxes to fund cancer research, a move boosted by cycling champion Lance Armstrong's $1.5 million donation to stop kids and adults from smoking.

Colorado lawmakers have drained money intended for tobacco cessation for years — even though voters amended the state constitution in 2004 to prevent it. Lawmakers have gotten around that by declaring the state in "fiscal emergency" every year since 2008.

This year, Colorado lawmakers say they won't declare a "fiscal emergency" and are restoring money for tobacco cessation programs.

"It's the right thing to do," said state Rep. Cheri Gerou, a Republican who leads Colorado's budget-writing committee.

Don't say that to Audrey Silk, a national spokeswoman for smoker's rights. Her website screams how anti-smoking funds would better be spent on schools, to keep firehouses open and reduce taxes. She's also pushing a boycott of businesses that ban smoking, the law in many states unless waivers are sought.

"With all of their efforts, the smoking rate has remained stagnant since at least 2004," said Silk, founder of NYC CLASH, a smoking advocate group that operates nationwide. "It's not that some adults who smoke still 'haven't gotten the message.' They did and have answered, 'Go away and leave me alone.'"

Philip Morris USA, among the tobacco companies paying into the national tobacco settlement, gave more than $55 billion to states — money that should have been spent on cessation and prevention programs, said company spokesman David Sutton. In addition, New York raised the cigarette tax to the highest in the nation, at $4.35 per pack.

Philip Morris USA "continues to believe states should use (tobacco settlement) funding to fund youth smoking prevention and smoking- and health-related initiatives," Sutton said.

State Health Department spokesman Michael Moran says the program works, but fiscal constraints require more efficient use of tobacco funds. He said the state is trying innovative programs to keep youths from smoking.

Panetta, the ex-smoker, believes quitting cigarettes is tougher to kick than addiction to alcohol or drugs.

In 1985, two years after his father died of lung cancer and as his stepfather battled emphysema, Panetta was descending the stairs of St. Peter's Hospital. He had just been told the tumor in his back wasn't cancer. Relieved after seven weeks, smoke-free and scared, he spotted the drugstore across the street and bought a pack of Winston Lights.

If not for the state program, he might still be smoking.

"I'm behind it for everything they can say, every commercial," said Panetta, a butcher and grandfather who still gets into an occasional pickup basketball game. "The program works."

"We're going to lose people because they aren't seeing it, they aren't feeling it," he said. "They need more billboards up, more ads like the little girl breathing in smoke."

"I've seen all this tragedy."

Associated Press writers Kristen Wyatt in Denver; Norma Love in Concord, N.H.; Julie Carr Smyth in Columbus, Ohio; Ryan J. Foley in Iowa City, Iowa; Bill Kaczor in Tallahassee, Fla.; Scott Bauer in Madison, Wis.; Judy Lin in Sacramento, Calif.; David A. Lieb in Jefferson City, Mo.; and Bob Lewis in Richmond, Va., contributed to this report.

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