TOBACCO SETTLEMENT MONEY IS 'BROKEN PROMISE' - State Spends 3% On Tobacco Prevention

By Bob Weaver

West Virginia ranks 29th in the nation in funding programs to protect kids from tobacco, according to a national report.

This year the state will collect $186.4 million from the billion dollar tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes, but will spend just 3 percent of it on tobacco prevention.

"Virtually all funding has been eliminated locally," said Carlene Frederick, who was the former coordinator of Calhoun's Tobacco Coalition which started in 1994.

Frederick says funding prevention efforts are now regional, covering six counties. Frederick continues to volunteer to help with local prevention efforts.

She said there is "loosely strung" funding through the school system to prevent tobacco use.

The local SCAT program was eliminated, replaced by the regional RAZE program.

The state currently spends $5.7 million a year on tobacco prevention programs, which is 40 percent of the minimum amount of $14.2 million recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Most of the state's tobacco settlement money has gone to shore up the state's retirement and compensation funds.

The annual report on states' funding of tobacco prevention programs, titled "A Broken Promise to Our Children," was released by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, Cancer Action Network and American Lung Association.

The report says tobacco companies spend $132 million a year on marketing in West Virginia. This is more than 23 times what the state spends on tobacco prevention.

Advocates say tobacco prevention is an important investment that protects kids, saves lives and saves money for taxpayers by reducing tobacco-related health care costs.

Entering the 10th year of the tobacco settlement, public health groups are challenging states to keep the promise of the tobacco settlement and fully fund tobacco prevention programs at CDC-recommended levels.

Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, killing more than 400,000 people and costing nearly $100 billion in health care bills every year. Nearly 90 percent of all smokers start at or before age 18. Every day, another 1,000 kids become regular smokers, one-third of whom will die prematurely as a result.

In West Virginia, 25.3 percent of high school students smoke, and 3,200 more kids become regular smokers every year. Each year, tobacco use claims 3,900 lives and costs the state $690 million in health care bills.