Keep hands off anti-smoking fund


POSTED: Monday, January 26, 2009

HAWAII'S success in discouraging tobacco use has resulted in the nation's second- lowest death rate from cigarette-related causes and should discourage legislators from diverting money from the effort. The rate should continue to decline as the effect of recent actions is realized.

A report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that the annual deaths in Hawaii from smoking-related illnesses declined from 195.6 from 1996-1999 to 167.7 from 2000-2004, a reduction of 28 percent. That translates to about 1,160 deaths a year in Hawaii from smoking. Utah is the only state with a lower rate of tobacco-related deaths.

Hawaii's figures can be expected to continue improving in the decades ahead as recent changes in state laws and taxes can be felt. Since 2004, the Legislature has banned smoking in county and state facilities, workplaces and enclosed or partially enclosed places open to the public. In addition, state taxes on cigarettes have risen by 20 cents a pack yearly beginning in 2006 to reach $2.60 a pack in 2012.

The state is spending $11 million a year from the 1998 settlement between states and Big Tobacco to discourage smoking, and that “;is way better than a lot of states,”; says Deborah Zysman, director of the Coalition for a Tobacco Free Hawaii.

Concerned that legislators will be tempted to raid the anti-tobacco fund to cope with the economic crisis, Zysman points out that the campaign has reduced youth smoking rates to less than 10 percent. “;We've got healthier kids and healthier elders,”; she told the Star-Bulletin's Helen Altonn. “;That won't be the case if we lose money.”;