Don’t lessen the effort to discourage teen smoking
Hawaii has been given poor ratings for the amount of money it spends on tobacco prevention.
HAWAII has made strong efforts in recent years to discourage smoking, but more can be done to reduce the number of children who begin a lifelong addiction with serious health consequences. Instead, the state has reduced its expenditures on tobacco prevention, and the Legislature has yet to initiate cigarette price increases that would cause many teenagers to check their pocketbooks before taking their first puff.
The state now is spending only $5.8 million in the current fiscal year on tobacco prevention and control, resulting in a "D" grade by the American Lung Association. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommends that Hawaii spend at least $10.78 million on tobacco prevention.
The expenditure amounts to only 5 percent, down from last year's 7.7 percent, of the $116.9 million in tobacco revenues, including Hawaii's share of the 1998 settlement of a lawsuit against tobacco companies. In contrast, tobacco companies will spend more than $48 million, targeting Hawaii's young and poor.
The cutback is a step back from a serious commitment to restraining teens' attraction to tobacco. Deborah Zysman, executive director of the Coalition for a Tobacco Free Hawaii, says figures show that states allocating more money to tobacco prevention show a significant decrease in teen smoking.
Zysman points out that Maine, which spent a greater percentage of its tobacco revenue on prevention than any other state, experienced a 64 percent decline in smoking among middle school students and 59 percent among high school students in the past eight years.
Those numbers could drop even more this year, since that state's cigarette tax doubled from $1 to $2 a pack on Jan. 1, added to the federal excise tax of 39 cents. Maine's median household income for smokers is $29,352, compared with $43,070 for nonsmokers, according to R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.
The nation's largest state tax is Rhode Island's $2.46 a pack, followed by New Jersey's $2.40, Washington's $2.02 and Maine's and Michigan's $2. New York's tax is $1.50, and New York City tacks on an additional $1.50, which Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has proposed raising by 50 cents.
Hawaii ranks 11th with a state tax of $1.40 a pack, but a bill before this year's Legislature would hike it by 9 cents next January, 11 cents a year later and 13 cents in 2009, bringing the tax to $1.73. A 10 percent price increase is estimated to result in a 3 percent to 7 percent decrease in youngsters who begin smoking.
Sponsors of the bill point out that tobacco use costs $7.18 in health care and decreased worker productivity for each pack of cigarettes smoked. They say that amounts to $526 million in health care and lost productivity in Hawaii.