Utah might rank 14th nationwide in smoking prevention and cessation spending, according to a study released Wednesday, but it still has the fewest number of teens and adults per capita who smoke.
A coalition of public health organizations is spending $8.3 million per year on anti-smoking campaigns, 35 percent of the $23.6 million that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it ought to spend. Despite that, the state moved up three places from its No. 17 ranking a year ago among other states in anti-tobacco expenditures, according to the report, "A Broken Promise to Our Children: The 1998 State Tobacco Settlement 11 Years Later."
The assessment was released by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the American Lung Association and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The report urges Utah lawmakers to increase the cigarette/tobacco tax to generate funding for tobacco prevention.
A $2 per-pack increase was defeated by the Legislature earlier this year, but legislation is being drafted to propose the hike again next year. With the state facing a $1 billion revenue shortfall and lawmakers not facing re-election, increasing tobacco taxes is already being regarded as a done deal.
Utah has the 36th lowest cigarette tax in the country, at 69.5 cents a pack, compared to the national average of $1.34 per pack.
"Utah had made a modest investment in programs to protect kids from tobacco, but is spending barely a third of what the CDC recommends," Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said in a news release. "To continue reducing smoking, it is critical that Utah's leaders raise the cigarette tax and increase funding for tobacco prevention. Even in these difficult budget times, tobacco prevention is a smart investment that reduces smoking, saves lives and saves money by reducing tobacco-related health care costs."
According to the study, Utah this year will collect $97 million from the 1998 tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes, but will spend just 8.6 percent of it on tobacco prevention programs.
The tobacco companies spend $58.7 million a year to market their products in Utah, seven times what the state spends on tobacco prevention, according to the study.
Regardless of whether lawmakers raise tobacco taxes next year, state public health officials are holding the line on the number of Utahns who smoke by most recently shifting their focus to tobacco products that don't burn.
Products that look like candy and gum but don't reek of smoke or even look like tobacco are particularly concerning to anti-smoking activists. People still have to be 21 to legally purchase the products, and retailers say they identify every tobacco purchaser, regardless of appearance, to help prevent selling to minors. The problem is the candy-shaped substances aren't candy or breath mints or toothpicks at all but a way to promote tobacco products by companies that face making up the lost of customers who either die from their addictions or quit, said Amy Sands, program manager for the state health department's Tobacco Prevention and Control Program. Because the products can be chewed or are easily dissolved in the mouth, they are attractive to teens who want to try them but don't want to get caught by their parents. The problem is the candy-shaped substances aren't candy or breath mints or toothpicks at all but a way to promote tobacco products by companies that face making up the lost of customers who either die from their addictions or quit, said Amy Sands, program manager for the state health department's Tobacco Prevention and Control Program.Because the products can be chewed or are easily dissolved in the mouth, they are attractive to teens who want to try them but don't want to get caught by their parents.
According to the health department, nearly 190,000 Utahns still smoke and 1,150 Utahns die each year from smoking-related illnesses.Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in the U.S., the study notes. It causes the death of more than 400,000 people and costs $96 billion in health care bills each year. According to the study, states this year will collect $25.1 billion from the tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes, but will spend just 2.3 percent of it — $567.5 million — on tobacco prevention programs. It would take less than 15 percent of their tobacco revenue to fund tobacco prevention programs in every state at CDC-recommended level.